Thursday, May 23, 2013

Morels for the Holiday

It’s a balmy 45 and I considered covering my precious tomatoes this evening. I decided against it, convinced that it’s Memorial Day weekend and they will be OK. I’m pretty sure that last year couldn’t have been a more different setting. I feel like everything came early last year and I wasn’t prepared for it. At a recent Chicago Cooperative meeting the ice breaker question was what is your favorite spring vegetable? Without blinking an eye my answer was morel mushrooms… Well, River Valley Ranch had photos of their morels up last week at the market, so if you are able to find them, I recommend this morel mushroom ravioli courtesy of the Parsley Thief as a long weekend project for the family or friends because it’s amazing, albeit a bit time consuming but completely worth every minute of work put in. It’s buttery and creamy and textured and melts in your mouth. Homemade pasta has more flavor and is more fun to eat because there’s more to the experience. The flavors that come out are more surprising and exciting than dried pasta and this recipe with the fresh morels drives it home.
Cut and wash 8-10 ounces of morel mushrooms in water. Beware, ants may fly out of them… totally normal, don’t freak. Drain when you’re sure they’re dirt and bug free. Heat some butter in a skillet and add 2 or 3 large shallots that are minced (if you’er lucky, River Valley Ranch will have some grown from their mushroom compost). Cook until translucent. This is one of those times where you really use real butter… like super awesome high quality butter and don’t skimp ladies and gents, this ravioli is serious (Nordic Creamery I’m looking at you). Add the mushrooms and let them sweat out all the water they absorbed for 10 or 12 minutes. Pour 1/4 cup dry white wine into the pan and let the mushrooms absorb it. Add 1/2 tablespoon chopped fresh tarragon (I used dry from the Spice House and wasn’t disappointed). Remove from heat and let cool.
Drain 1 1/2 cups ricotta cheese for 15 minutes. Since you’re already taking the effort to make the pasta from scratch, might I suggest also making the ricotta (seriously, Smitten Kitchen where would I be without you)? Many local farmers have both milk and cream for sale. I have used Kilgus Farmstead but there are many options. Chop the mushroom mixture and mix it into the ricotta along with an egg (farm fresh or bust), a pinch of nutmeg and a cup of grated Parm. Make the fresh pasta courtesy of Mark Bittman and roll it out into sheets. I used a rolling pin (i.e. empty water bottle/wine bottle) to roll my dough out. You don’t have to be fancy about it! Lay out 2 sheets of pasta and take the advice to use cornmeal dusting because it will stick. Spacing an inch apart, mound some heaps of mushroom goo onto one of the sheets of pasta. When you have a reasonable amount, carefully lay the second layer on top. Dip your finger in water and moisten the edges of the pasta so they’ll stick together.
Cut the ravioli with a knife, or a ravioli press, or a cookie cutter… whatever works and lay on a pan covering with a towel until the process is complete. You should get about 24 ravioli out of it. Boil a pot of salted water and carefully drop them in one at a time. Cook for 2-3 minutes until they’re floating on the top. Drain and serve with some melted butter, parm, or mushroom oil and just let the emotion take control. Thank you Parsley Thief for a great recipe and River Valley ranch for delightful morels! Happy mushrooms!

Wednesday, April 3, 2013


I don't want you to get the wrong idea about me - lately many of my posts have been about simple fast dishes that you can throw together without thinking. But I also like a good challenge in the kitchen and more importantly, if I want something for dinner, I'm going to make it.

Enter this incredible jambalaya courtesy of

Sure it takes some time, but the rice is creamy and full of flavor and you can adjust the vegetables to your liking.

Start by browning 1/2 pound of andouille sausage for about 8 minutes. You can get higher quality from your local butcher and I bet you can find some at a local farmers market. Remove from the pan and chop into small pieces. Then in the same pan (so you get the fat!!), add a chopped onion, two chopped ribs of celery, a chopped bell pepper and a couple of cloves of garlic. Let them soften and wait for the onion to turn a beautiful gold.

In a separate pot, combine 1 1/2 cups rice, 3 cups of chicken stock, 2 bay leaves, the chopped sausage, 1/4 teaspoon of cayenne and 1 1/2 teaspoons of salt. Simmer covered for 15 minutes.

Can we just pause for a second and talk about how much better any grain is cooked in stock and not water?? Seriously trust me and spend the extra on stock. It makes eating grains much more appealing and flavorful. I think it does a nice job of tying the meal together since it's served with chicken.

So on that note, cut a pound of chicken breasts into cubes and add to the pot. Cover and simmer until it's cooked through for about five more minutes. Before serving, remove from heat and allow it to sit for a couple of minutes.

Eat up friends! I hope you're all as excited for spring as I am - lots of greens on the way :)

Tuesday, March 12, 2013


I love a nice big bowl of popcorn.  Restraint isn't even attempted when I've got a bowl in my lap.  But popcorn from a microwaveable bag is gross and when consumed, I'd always feel awful after.  It's been a long time since I purchased a box of bags of the stuff - I just can't wrap my head around the fact that the inside of the bag flavors the popcorn for you.  Wouldn't you rather just melt real butter and put real salt over the top... amiright?  If this isn't a good enough reason to stay away from the stuff then mayhaps this won't interest you.  However, I think it's worth noting that even if it's been proven that microwaveable popcorn doesn't cause lung cancer, it's likely that it's probably not a good idea to consume it.

One suitable alternative to bags of microwave popcorn are the kernels you can buy and pop in a pot - much healthier and safer and you can flavor however you like.  But, how about you take it one step further and try it from an actual cob of popping corn!

I dropped by Green City Market a couple of weeks ago and one of the stands was selling cobs of popping corn for $1 a piece.  I've read many positive articles about people who've tried it so I decided to give it a try. It was recommended to me that I put it into a paper bag and microwave it to contain the mess, but I couldn't handle not watching it pop for my first time... it made a bit of a mess, but was totally worth it.  I microwaved it for about 4 minutes and ended up with a wonderfully hot and fresh bowl of popcorn.  Flavor however you like - melted butter, cheese, truffle oil, spice blends, hot caramel - and you've got a delicious snack that you can use for entertaining or for a quiet night in on the couch.

I think if I heated it in a bag more kernels would have popped - it will take a bit of experimenting to get the perfect recipe down, but I'm up for the challenge.  There were plenty of cobs to go around at the market - try it out!

Monday, March 4, 2013

Support the Chicago Cooperative!

Many of us have ideas constantly bouncing around in our minds that we don’t know how to turn into reality.  I am most certainly a victim of this and I look up to those people who are brave and courageous enough to take a risk and follow their hearts.  One of those people is Greg Berlowitz.  He is attempting to fulfill many of our dreams to create an accessible cooperative in the northern part of Chicago.  His dedication is tremendous and was clearly shown Wednesday night in his kick-off meeting where he conducted a group activity and brought in speaker Clint Popetz, former chairman of the board of the Common Ground cooperative in Champaign Urbana.  He couldn’t have been more honest and up front with the amount of time and energy that will be needed to make this a success and, despite that, couldn’t wait to get started.

Group activity where we all write our ideas for everyone to see!

A cooperative gives us the opportunity to decide what goes into our grocery store and establish the price of the goods sold.  It is unique in that the members of the cooperative own the cooperative.  The members elect the board and the board establishes the policies of the co-op.  The board then hires a General Manager to implement policy with their supervision.  Many products you will find at a cooperative are local, organic, sustainable or a combination of all of these.  The profits go back into the cooperative and often members shop at a discounted price.  While the community is what keeps a cooperative operating successfully, membership isn’t required to shop there.
Greg’s sense of humor and enthusiasm could not be more encouraging and endearing.  He believes that “building a co-op is not just about building a store.  It’s about building a community-supported organization that can build a store, maintain a store, and enable the store to thrive.  And a co-op is successful when it is born out of a community and fulfills a need that that community has.”  

As a local food advocate, I couldn’t be more excited to become an active member of this project. Although I am more of the uneducated but eager type in this instance, he has assured me that this is, in fact, OK.  He attended a conference in Bloomington over the weekend and says: “At the conference, which was supported by national organizations which support co-ops and are taught by veteran co-op builders, we were reminded that we aren’t reinventing the wheel.  There are established steps we will take and demonstrated processes we will undergo to build a strong organization and then an inspirational food co-op.”  Greg welcomes any and all levels of commitment, ideas and questions you may have.

There is another meeting this Thursday, March 7 at 7:30 at the Sulzer Library on 4455 N Lincoln Ave.  If you have even an inkling of interest in learning about a cooperative or becoming a part of a great opportunity, I really encourage you to stop by and talk food with everyone!

Monday, February 11, 2013

Chicken burgers

I have this thing about ground beef - it really just doesn't do it for me.  Reading way too much about how many different cows go into one burger made my decision to stop eating it really very easy, except I really like them... They are easy to make and are great for company.

I had my best friend over for lunch a couple of weeks ago.  She is a paleo eater and we were planning on just making a salad.  I said earlier that my life change goal is to use what I have and embrace it.  So I looked in my freezer and found some beautiful ground capon from C & D Family Farms in my freezer and texted her that we were having chicken burgers.  Her response was "OK...." so that was encouraging.

The amazing thing about burgers is that they can be whatever you want them to be.  I used what I had laying around: 1 pound of ground capon, a squeeze of lemon, a handful of chopped cilantro, two chopped chilis in adobo sauce, an egg and a couple of teaspoons of Caribbean Calypso seasoning from the Spice House.  Had I not had my little gluten hater over, I certainly would have added some whole wheat bread crumbs, but they're not necessary.  I formed them into 4 beautiful patties and sauteed them in cilantro olive oil, topped with soft queso fresco and voila: a masterpiece.  We liked them so much we both had two.  Certainly a unique approach, but localish and healthy all the same.  What are some weird creations you have made?

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Winter Comforts

So I'm a little late in writing what my New Years Resolutions are, but I think that's OK because my goals are more of attempts at life changes.  You see, food for me is an obsession.  I have been obsessed and fixated on food since I graduated from college until last summer.  After I canned tomatoes, I was convinced that I wouldn't be a local eater until I baked my own bread - Can you see where this is going?

And so my friends, I give you the beloved soft boiled egg.  It's elegant in its simplicity.  It's beautiful and delicate.  The yolk is velvety and buttery if you have the right egg.  And if you're reading this blog post, I'm pretty much assuming you know my feelings on store bought eggs versus the real thing.

This is my goal for 2013: embrace what's simple instead of being discouraged by imperfection.  This doesn't mean I have to be thoughtless and careless.  This means that I don't have to get wrapped up in the fact that I don't make my own bread every weekend.  I can easily buy freshly baked bread (or not, if that's what you prefer) and high quality eggs from the farmers market or a specialty store here in Chicago.  And guess what, I'm still kind of making a difference with my locally purchased bread and eggs.  So if that's all I can do this week, then thank you and good night ladies and gents.

And here is the best part.  My 3 minute soft boiled egg actually has some extremely deep sentiment behind it.  When I was a little girl my dad travelled all the time - inevitably when he came home, all he wanted was to sleep in on the weekends.  But he was ever so lucky to have me as his offspring and so at 6 or 7 AM I'd jump out of bed bursting with energy ready to talk to him.  He would get up every weekend and make these eggs for me except he cut the crust off my toast and the egg cutter was Mickey Mouse, not a rooster.  But the egg cups and cat warmer are the exact same as when I was a little girl.  This was something that I waited for all week to do with my dad and now I fondly eat my soft boiled egg and whole wheat toast with a smile on my face, knowing that that is truly what's important.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Summer Reflections

Last week I had to dig my garden up, pull the weeds out and throw my dead plants away.  It was awful.  But at the same time, it was beautiful.  I ended up digging a whole bunch of carrots up that I used in soup along with the thyme that I pulled too.  And then I started planning what I'm going to do next year.

The truth is, I let my garden die.  And I didn't can as much as I should have.  And sometimes, I even bought produce from the grocery store.  This summer was a huge learning experience for me - it was the peak of my quarter life crisis... did you know those existed?  I didn't until I was in the middle of it.  BUT, the good news is that it happened.  I had put so much pressure on myself to only eat a certain way that I sort of exploded and stopped eating food that I even liked.

The passion I have for vegetables may be absurd, but it's part of who I am and it's who I'll continue to be.  And even if I don't cook every single day, the changes that I have made in my life are substantial enough to impact the world in some small way.  I still eat local food.  I'm still eating the food I canned.  And, I'm still learning new canning and cooking techniques.  My bizarre preachy word vomit aside, what I'm trying to say is, don't be so hard on yourself when you're eating.  It can create chaos.  Do what you can do and don't freak out if you don't make the best choice every time.  I promise you'll appreciate cooking/baking/preserving/canning/eating more if you are able to keep this in mind.  At least it worked for me.

And so I leave you with these final thoughts: It's Thanksgiving time!  Make your favorite dish and throw in an extra stick of butter.  It'll be OK :)