Friday, June 06, 2008

Psst, Wanna Buy a Fresh Porcini


The word on the street is that fresh porcini's will be at the Lincoln Park Farmer's Market located at Lincoln Park High School, Armitage and Orchard (7 AM to 2 PM). My peeps tell me that there might also be some at Oak Park (Pilgrim Church located on Lake between Scolville and Elmwood, 7 AM until 1 PM). The sources say that porcini will NOT be at Green City. Good luck mushroom shopping this Saturday.

All information confidential and subject to change. Caveat emptor.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Every Day a Market

Happenings in Ag

By this weekend, a good amount of farmer's markets are going. Several media organizations have put out lists of farmer's markets. The best one remains the Illinois Department of Agriculture's calender of "Agrihappenings." It includes markets in Chicago, the suburbs and downstate. Moreover, it includes, markets run by a variety of groups. You get what for a lack of better word I'd call real farmer's markets as well as French Markets and their ilk. There are the markets run by the city as well as markets run on their own, such as the Logan Square Farmer's Market. You might be surprised how many markets operate each day around the state. This calender will help you find out.

And if you want to call out your favorite market, want to taut an unsung market, or otherwise let the world know about a market other than Chicago's Green City, drop me an e-mail (address to the right) or leave a comment.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Eat Frozen Meat

Rick Bayless Sez So

I think this is gonna be the week of blessings and curses on the blog. Which is it, then when it comes to local meat? Except for some Amish raised chickens I can find here and there, my family and I are pretty much restricted to getting our meats frozen to stay committed to local meats. A...a curse angle, at least, as I have said many a-time, is the hassle of frozen meat. It puts a bit of a damper on spur of the moment meals, and means we plan our Friday night dinners by mid-week. Are for losing quality, I've not found it, and now Mike Sula has got Rick Bayless to weigh in:
"I think the freezer is a really good tool," he says. "We went through this period back in the seventies, eighties, when people would say if you had anything frozen in your place, you were an awful restaurant. And if you're talking about frozen prepared foods, or choosing frozen ingredients when you could get the best stuff fresh, then, yeah, that is awful. But we have huge freezers. . . .If you know how to use a freezer and you understand that you can only freeze certain things, and you know how to defrost slowly at the right temperature, you can serve great local food all year-round."

They Send Out E-mails

Sustainable Table E-mail 6/4/08

New York City, May 30, 2008—Sustainable Table, the creator of the animated short film series, The Meatrix, is going on the road again, headed to this year’s Bonnaroo Music Festival in Manchester, Tennessee. Founder/Director, Diane Hatz, and Moopheus, the larger than life, trench-coat-clad cow and superhero star of The Meatrix, will bring festival goers an urgent message—“Eat locally grown, sustainably raised foods to help save the environment.” 2008 is emerging as the year of ethical eating. Local food is becoming an important part of the consumer food market as consumers want to know more about their food -- where it was grown, what ingredients it contains, how it was packaged, and the footprint its production left on the earth.

By purchasing sustainable, local foods in-season, you eliminate the environmental damage caused by shipping foods thousands of miles, your food dollar goes directly to the farmer, and your family will be able to enjoy the health benefits of eating fresh, unprocessed fruits and vegetables. Buying seasonal produce also provides an exciting opportunity to try new foods and to experiment with seasonal recipes. And it simply tastes better!” said Diane Hatz, Founder/Director of Sustainable Table.
See here for more about Sustainable Table.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

What's Local at Cassie's Green Grocer


Just the other day I was telling you how good it was to be a locavore. A bag of fresh porcini mushrooms, lettuce that tasted like something, damnit red strawberries. What I did not mention is that locavorism is a curse too. I have a disease and I have it bad.

See when I walk into Cassie's Green Grocer and find something new, in this case, lamb's quarters; well, I barely pause to look at the price. They'd be in my bag if I was smart enough to bring some of our bags in from the car, but since my wife and I left them all in to go shopping, we just wrapped our arms around the greens to take them out (along with our arugula, cilantro, Trader's Creamery ice cream, baby turnips, peanut butter and Bennison's bread).

Lamb's quarters also go by wild spinach, which rather means it is a weed on farms around here that cooks and tastes a bit like spinach. It's thicker than spinach, with that same velvety quality as nettles that somewhat negates its use raw. They don't need a long cook though. Through the food chain of local, Robin, who I introduced to Cassie, who introduced Cassie to Floyd of the Midwest Organic Farmer's Cooperative, who hooked Cassie up with lamb's quarters from Ackerman Farm of Chenoa, Illinois; who sold them back to me because I have a house full of kale and beet greens and radish tops and 3 forms of lettuce and spinach too I believe, but I must, I absolutely must have some lamb's quarters. I am diseased.

Eat Local Cheese

The Cheeses of Wisconsin: A Culinary Travel Guide by Jeanette Hurt

The Chicago Tribune's food blog, the Stew, points me to what will soon be a key part of the VI library.

How to Eat a Strawberry

Oh, there are ways to eat a strawberry. Array bowls of sour cream and brown sugar, dip. Splattered with fresh made whipped cream. With a tiny drop of the most expensive balsamic vinegar you can afford. These are ways to eat a strawberry. They are not, however, what is vital. Let me tell you.

Foremost, use a local strawberry. Yes! Yes, these harbingers have arrived in our Chicago area markets. There is no comparison to what you can find at an area farmer's market to Well-Pic/Driscoll stuff found at the supermarkets. For a bit of background on this, read Russ Parson's How to Pick a Peach. Supermarket strawberries are bred for a few reasons, mostly shipability and extended growing seasons. Local strawberries just are. They are here when they grow, picked when they are ripe, bleed red like they are supposed to, and taste, yes, taste, like you remember. Vital rule number one: eat a local strawberry.

Now, to fully enhance your local strawberry, pay attention to this rule. Ditch the fridge. Vital rule number two: don't eat a cold strawberry. If your strawberry can never hit the fridge, you are in the best shape. If you have to hold your strawberries for a day or so, refrigerate them, but take them out well, well before you plan to eat them. Think of them like you might think of cheese. When the strawberries come to room temperature, like cheese, you start picking up flavors, nuance, that is deadened with cold. Perhaps, a Driscoll strawberry would have some taste if served at room temperature.


Things They Don't Show You on TV Cooking Shows - Part 1

Fresh Pasta, Key Limes

First, when making fresh pasta, using the Mario Batali enforced well method, dig that well deep. I measured out my flour, 3 1/2 cups, formed my mountain, pressed down a crater and starting cracking the necessary five eggs. About at egg three, they were running down the sides, like a Hawaiian volcano. I had as much egg on the sides of my board as I had within the flour. I tried spreading the flour over that way to catch the stray egg. That did not work too well. Eventually, as the dough was hardly coming together, I I trenched a new hole and fitted a beaten egg in that. By a lot of folding from there, I managed to wet things up. Still, next time, I believe I will follow Lidia B's directions and make the pasta in a big bowl.

For a first attempt at fresh pasta, I was mostly pleased with my efforts. I'm a snob in these type of things, and every thing I have read about fresh pasta is that there is a significant better-ness to pasta rolled by hand on a wooden board than pasta rolled with a machine. So, I was gonna be a rollin' stone of a pasta maker. My wife warned me. "It's really hard", she said. She warned me off. We argued. We agreed that she could be brutally honest in her assessment of the pasta if she said it in a nice way. "Good first try."

Second, did you know how intense key limes could be? As I mentioned last week, we found these gloriously yellow key limes on Maxwell Street. We have been using them in our recipes but it's taken some adjusting. Last Friday, my wife needed some citrus for her carrot kugel (pudding). She used what she thought was the equivalent amount of these key limes. The color was carrot but the flavor was all Joe's Stone Crab. Deborah Madison has a recipe for asparagus with citrus butter. She notes the affinity between asparagus coming into season and citrus just ending its season. I squeezed three key limes for the recipe, much less juice that was called for, yet I still had to add an extra tablespoon of butter to achieve some type of balance.

Anyways, I am out here cooking, letting you know what they don't tell you on your TV.

Monday, June 02, 2008

Vital Book

Local Flavors - Deborah Madison

Mike Sula in last week's Reader highlights several new cook books (with one, Terrine by Stephane Reynaud high on my list as I just ordered a 1/2 hog from the Wettstein's farm). Sula needed to add a few more favorites and used his blog to enhance his list. (My guru, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall makes the supplemental list; Sula cites his River Cottage Cookbook, although the one that I'm liking more right now is the River Cottage Family Cookbook, also out.)

Must be a hot media item, as the New York Times also reviewed new cookbooks this weekend. They too felt it necessary to include a web-extra list of books. And buried in there, for the computer savvy, one can find the most important, the most vital book of the season, Local Flavors by Deborah Madison.

The New York Times does not waste a lot of words on this tome:

"A paperback edition of an influential cookbook first published in 2002. "
Me, what I would say first is "thank god this thing is back in print." See a while back we gave a way our edition as a present before we even made use of the book, with the promise that I would buy a new one. Then, for over a year at least, we found it outta circulation. We picked up the new edition over the weekend. As far as I can tell, there is no new editorial content. Yet, for a book six years old, it remains more current than ever.

Three reasons: a natural organization of foods that is not tied to the ideal California-Tuscan notion of seasonality; recipes that are simple, useful and based on accessible ingredients; and bits of wisdom sprinkled throughout its pages. Any time I open the book, I find something that I wanna make. Something I can make. The nuggets interspersed, I feel like I could have written those myself, although my wife thinks it insulting that I dare compare myself to Ms. Madison.

Randomly, I open the book. On page 67, an herb salad, the recipe like so many in the book is not so much an order but a request. You can mimic the combination she presents or follow her general directions to make an herb salad with whatever you have around. Page 98, she reveals that Alaska can produce a farmer's market as good as anywhere warmer. Page 116, she finds that Birmingham, Alabama can be as limited in offerings in late September as Chicago can be in early May. Page 201, 3 beet caviar with goat cheese; page 267, Concord grape tart.

This book is filled with the type of things my wife and I cook, how our family eats. As you put more local on your table, use Local Flavors to guide you.