Friday, May 09, 2008


A Big Head of Lettuce, a Small Head of Bok Choi, It's Nice Getting New Crops to Eat

Last night's dinner made good use of what Spring brings. I thinly sliced about five scallion stalks and sweated them in a mix of butter and olive oil (medium heat). I roughly chopped the leaves and stalks from three beets, added them to the pan. Cracking nine farm eggs, whisking them (with a bit of added olive oil), was enough time for the beet greens to cook. I started the scramble on low heat and then turned the stove to medium high after the curds formed, about five minutes. Then, its a diligent swirl, swirl, swirl, getting the cooked edges to the center. Just before the eggs were finished, and I scramble soft, I shredded a good bit of Wisconsin Fontina style cheese over.

On to the inventory. (Last inventory here)

Herbs - Cilantro

Keeper onions - 3 small ones from our CSA box this week, so we are just fine here.

Scallions (a/k/a green onions; a/k/a spring onions) - None this week, but we have plenty still.

Garlic - Garlic holding out. I love congratulating myself for buying enough garlic to last.

Cabbage - Red head still there!

Carrots - Enough that they can go in the kidz lunches again

Parsnips - The problem with all the parsnips we have, it's like the squash and the cabbage, they seem so winter.

Potatoes - Have not touched them in a week or so, but there's still some,

Apples - Picked up some red delicious and golden delicious for lunches at Caputo's

Lettuce - Big head of leaf lettuce

Burdock root - 1 lb - No change

Beets - We are quite long on beets, about 20

Kale - We were saving one from a previous CSA box; this week we got two big bunches. Now we actually have enough for a decent portion.

Misc - One small one regular head of bok choi

Radishes - A...bunch

Local Pantry - Cheeses (actually low on cheese), yogurt, eggs, noodles, pork, beef, lamb, bacon, granola, grains, milk

We're heading to Madison today for morels, nettles, ramps, herbs. I imagine next week's inventory will be a bit larger.

Thursday, May 08, 2008

What's in Season - May

Before It's June

As I just posted, May is finally starting to bring some farmer's markets, and with such, the ability to add local to your table gets a bit easier. May is a time for mixed product around here. We can roughly divide our what's available into 4 categories.

The Esoteric
The earliest spring crops are mostly still there, and unlike the last couple of months are entering a bit into the markets. Over at LTHForum, shoppers have found ramps at Whole Foods. Likewise, Irv and Shelly have them to order. Other foraged type crops include morels, garlic mustard, dandelion, nettles and watercress. See if you can find these real spring around Chicago.

The Classics
Yes, local asparagus can be now had. Irv and Shelly have. I know Cassie was working her hardest to get some too. Spring onions ("scallions") are around. Rhubarb should be available too/soon. A couple of other early crops you might find are sunchokes and burdock root. Hopefully, we'll see strawberries.

Greenhouse Crops
Spring farmers like my pal, Farmer Vicki, are working their hoophouses with abandon. Their crops include lettuces, chard, bok choi, kale, carrots, spinach, beets, and the ever present sprouts. Fresh herbs this time of year include cilantro* and sorrel.

Stored Crops/Frozen
Over-wintered parsnips are around, maybe a few over-wintered carrots. In these cases big is better. Michigan apples are sill hangin' in; I saw them this week at Caputo's in Elmwood Park and Cermak Produce in Chicago. Likewise both places had Wisconsin potatoes. There's keeper onions lollygagging around too.

Meat and eggs.

*The saying goes, what grows together goes together, but cilantro is most vexing (to me). It's a cool weather herb and mostly in season around this time of year. Yet, when I think, what does cilantro most go with, and I think salsas, especially salsa crudo's or fresh tomato salsas. These, surely, are not in season for a while. I got a nice bag of cilantro last week in my CSA. Twice this week, my wife prepared on of our favorite cheats, guacamole. The avocado, lime and serrano chile may have been non-local, but at least we found a use for the cilantro! (local onions too).

Get Your Farmer's Markets

Today's Market

This is about the time of year that various publications present their farmer's markets guides. The Chicago Reader scooped the industry with their guide last week. It's not a bad one, being both info packed and a bit subjective. Still, they miss the first market I know.

Today, in Western Springs, you can stop by to congratulate potential Iron Chef, Paul Virant, and you can hit the French Market at the intersection Hillgrove and Wolf. The market, unlike many markets around here, runs in the afternoon, 2-7 PM.

Some may disparage these markets with their mix of crafts and olive (!). Me, I like any farmer's market. Maybe because they're "French", these markets often feature the nuns from the Fraternite of Notre Dame from the West side of Chicago. These nuns bake up some classic style French pastries. The French Markets also often have guys who will amalgamate a collection of Amish goods, get a pie baked with lard; most of the more "real" farmers markets will not have these types of stands as they only allow farmers to sell their own goods. I highly doubt their will be much in the way of seasonal produce at this market. Nearby Vie may have ramps on its menu, but I do not believe their will be at this market, nor will morels another Virant favorite. Still, for all anxious to get to a market, here's your chance.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Vie News

Yes, there's a new menu online, been online for days now. Yes, it'll make you hungry for spring with roasted Klug farm asparagus, Spence farm garlic mustard and ramps, cream of stinging nettle soup and lovage and sorrel playing their herbal tune. That's not my Vie news.


Here's the news. The Chicago area's ablest pickler and restauranter most committed to local (at least until I know the Mado people) has also caught the eye of a certain Chairman Kaga or whatever his nephew is named. Hopefully the secret ingredient will be morels. Keep here for more updates.

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Eat Good Food

Dancing with Mr. D

My wife first read about the local food centered market, Lionette, in one of our in-room magazines (I think). I'll cover Lionette and some related places in another post.
In looking up the name of an oyster bar in Boston yesterday, I was reminded of yet another post I meant to do. So, listen, I'm totally backlogged on posts. When I promise forthcoming posts on local inventory, what's in season, my recent eat local speech in Glen Ellyn, I mean it. I promise. And I have a couple of restaurants to report on, in the loop; both I generally liked, and both had pretty good fries, but neither had fries that came close to as good as Mr. D's on the far Northwest side of Chicago.

Why, why, why...why, why, why; why it frustrates me so much that people, people, at least the general population in the Chicago area eat so poorly. Eat good food. Is there anything more basic, more satisfying, more hard to find than a good french fry. In another time, in another food board universe, there used to be vehement arguments on "cheap eats" vs. "fine dining". I'm surely a cheap guy, but I have some sympathies towards fine dining. Certainly, as I have focused on local eating, my snobbery towards product has grown. Still, there are things that cheap restaurants tend to do better, that satisfy more, and no more is that demonstrated than in the french fry.

I assume the couple running Mr. D's Shish Kabob (6656 W Diversey, Chicago) are a couple. They have that silent communication, nearly extended conversations of the long married. They divide the labor. Most orders just come over the short counter. She'll get the meat and condiments ready and later take the money. He mans the grill and fries the fries. Unlike, say Gene and Judes, the potatoes are not constantly cut. Rather, you can see the same levered device as Gene and Judes to the side, but there are bins a-ready. He works the two fryer system, aided by a long, square-headed spider, that he uses to both pat down frying potatoes, maintaining submergence, and straining out any fallen bits.

It is rare, really rare, for a better (read more expensive) to take the same care on their fries. Outside Chicago, I know, but so representative, both of the Kellers in Las Vegas, Hubert at Burger Bar and Thomas at Bouchon, produce fries no where close to Mr. D. I remember someone telling me at Bouchon that they just did not have the time to make fries the way Mr. D does. Then, someone else told me, about one of the Kellers, that they got the "best frozen". Hahahahahaha. One of the places in the Loop had those too, skin on, maybe could fool a non-fry freak, but not me. I'm a freak.

A freak for good food. I get most of my good food from local farms. I also like to get my good food from guys who know how to do it. Guys like Mr. D.