ALSO STARTING TODAY: New Market In The Polish Triangle

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Posted: June 30, 2011 at 3:38 pm

Today is the first day for a new market, called the Polish Triangle Marketplace, located in what’s colloquially known as the “Polish Triangle” at the intersection of N. Milwaukee/N. Ashland/W. Division streets in Wicker Park.   The market will operate through September, from 2 pm. to 8 pm.

Current vendors include:

  • Blue Sky Bakery and Cafe
  • Delightful Pastries
  • The Scrumptious Pantry
  • KAP Farms
  • Niemczyk P&P Juice Bar
  • Flip Crepes
  • Spencer’s Jolly Posh British & Irish Foods
  • Cook Au Vin

More information here.




STARTING TODAY: New Downtown Thursday Market @ Trump Tower

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Posted: June 30, 2011 at 11:23 am

We’ve long been fans of the Thursday Daley Center farmer’s market, but now a new market, the Trump Tower Bridges-to-Bridges Market, starts today, June 30th, along the Riverwalk near the Trump Tower.  Whereas the Daley Center market starts and closes early, the Trump Tower market runs later from 11 am to 7 pm, which will service North Loop/River North office workers during lunch and their afternoon commutes.  More details from the City of Chicago and The Feast.




Round-up of the Evanston Farmers Markets, 2011

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Posted: June 28, 2011 at 10:55 am

Editor’s Intro: In the following piece, Beet contributor Peg Wolfe delves deep into the myriad of Evanston farmer’s markets, and discovers that they’re not all produce. She finds some treasures (including a hidden-away urban farm), and tells us what’s worth visiting for what. -WAA

* * *
Evanston may have only 75,000 residents, but the discerning audience for its farmers markets far exceeds that population. You never know whom you might see there, either – two Saturdays ago, acclaimed author Michael Pollan was spotted cheerfully chatting with various vendors. As the years have gone by, additional satellite markets have been added to meet the growing demand of Chicago-area cooks and food-lovers. Here is what the city has to offer for 2011:

Evanston Downtown, Intersection of University Place and East Railroad Ave.
Saturday, 7:30AM – 1:00PM

The big daddy of the Evanston markets. The Saturday morning downtown market has been in existence since the mid-70’s, and boasts a select line-up of 35-plus vendors from Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, and Wisconsin. A long-time favorite haunt of local chefs, and it is easy to see why – an entire menu can easily be written on the fly here, right down to artisan breads from Great Harvest Bakery and beautiful fresh cut flowers for the table from several vendors.

Here is a selection of some of the standout vendors, and what they have to offer:

- Henry’s Farm/Brockman’s (IL): strictly organic vegetables, herbs, handmade herbal soaps, fruit and jams, and vegetable plants in season. A market fixture, Terra Brockman also is a writer, and produces a remarkable weekly newsletter about the inner workings of the farm. The Evanston Downtown market is the only market they do, though they do have a CSA available. Don’t miss the Wall of Lettuce!

- Green Acres (IN): another organic vendor, Green Acres specializes in unusual heirloom vegetables and fruits, especially tomatoes and chiles in season. The farm cultivates 500 different varieties of plants, so if you don’t see what you need, just ask – they probably have it. Eggs and wild mushrooms are available, as well.

- Nichols Farm & Orchard (IL): Another big long-time vendor, Nichols now grows 1000 varieties of fruits and vegetables, and features a staggering array of potatoes, apples, onions, and strawberries in season. Outstanding source for unusual plant starts in spring, and herbs all during the year. A chef favorite.

- Heartland Meats (IL): An unusually hands-on operation, Heartland not only raises their Piedmontese cattle, but also runs their own processing plant. Very high-quality yet exceptionally lean beef, a breed trait.

- Elko’s Produce (WI): One of the original vendors, dating to the mid-70s, Elko sells Wisconsin cheeses, plants of all kinds, vegetables, and eggs. A good bet for unusual cheeses – like goat mozzarella.

- Seedling (MI): a well-regarded fruit seller among area chefs, Seedlings carries unusual items in season, such as donut peaches and wild strawberries, and single-variety apple cider in fall.

- Stover’s (MI): something for everyone: cut flowers in season, vegetables, and fresh fruit, as well as an enormous variety of dried Michigan fruit, jams, jellies, and unusual salsas and other preparations, as well as fresh fruit pies. A must-visit in sour cherry season, as they sell buckets of pitted sour cherries (a bargain at twice the price for jam/pie makers).

- Kinnikinnick Farms (IL): Top quality organic vegetables, unusual cut flowers, herbs of all kinds – and eggs, if you get there early. Another long-time fixture of the Evanston Downtown market.

- Pleasant Prairie Farms (WI): a true niche vendor, Pleasant Prairie sells nothing but top-quality cut flowers. A unique feature: they will custom-make bouquets on the spot.

As noted, there are over 35 farmers and vendors of all kinds to explore, so allow plenty of time. A multi-level parking garage is adjacent to the market, a great improvement over the problematic parking in its early days, so be ready to do a lot of shopping.

West End, Intersection of Church St. and Dodge Ave. (Evanston Township HS parking lot)
Saturday, 8:30AM – 3:00PM

A small but intriguing market on Evanston’s west side, across the street from Evanston’s gargantuan public high school. Among the booths selling jewelry, food, and such, there is but one produce vendor, but this vendor is unique and special, as all of the produce is grown locally – extremely locally. As in, on the north side of Church St., right across the street from the market, in the back of the Boocoo Cultural Center & Café, an eclectic community center (boocoo.org) run by the Evanston Community Development Corporation. Not at all visible from the street, this “farm” is comprised of a large hoop house, containing all manner of fruits, flowers and vegetables, raised beds with herbs and greens, and a city lot, which is rapidly becoming a thriving field of sweet corn. There is also a large vermiculture (in English – worm farm) compost bin, which uses the food scraps from the Boocoo café – and since they are able to literally walk the produce across the street, the operation has a virtual zero carbon footprint, and is completely sustainable and organic. The proprietor of this local marvel is Cozeake Nelson, an entrepreneurship coach and “Second Chance Supervisor” with the ECDC; he is ably assisted by Bill Collingwood. Well worth a visit – the idea alone of buying Evanston-grown sweet corn on the day that it is picked is intoxicating.

Ridgeville (South Evanston), Intersection of Ridge Ave. and South Blvd.
Wednesday, 3:30 PM – 7:00 PM

This market is a small outpost of vendors in a large urban meadow, right on Ridge Avenue, just north of St. Francis Hospital. One interesting quirk is its specific location, which changes mid-season from the street side of the meadow to the back sports courts, as the Ridgeville Park District, which controls the acreage, uses the grassy fields for children’s activities during midsummer. At this writing, the current vendors include Lyon’s Fruit Farm of South Haven, MI, also a large presence at the downtown market; KAP Farms, a downstate IL vegetable producer; Katz Cookies, an Evanston bakeshop; and SongBird Coffee Roasters of Rogers Park. The location of the market is convenient, though parking can be a bit challenging.

Central St. Green Market, Independence Park, intersection of Central St. and Stewart St. (two blocks west of Green Bay Rd.)
Wednesday, 3:00PM – 7:00 PM

The newest of the five markets, the Central St. Green Market is in its first year, and features all natural/organic growers and makers. The market is the brainchild of the owners/operators of Lake Breeze Organics, another Evanston Downtown market seller and producer of a wide variety of organic vegetables, fruits, and nuts. They have organized a small but solid group of fellow vendors, including:

- a meat purveyor (Trail’s End Farm, selling grass-fed beef and pastured poultry)

- a natural baby food maker (Foodie Baby)

- an ultra premium ice cream maker/seller (Snookelfritz)

- Two bakers – “Crust & Crumb,” featuring baker Dennis Clarkson’s local wild yeast artisan bread, and “Baking Beauty,” which concentrates on sweet breads, cookies, and muffins using natural ingredients and organic fruit.

The location of the market is perfect for the downtown commuter, as it is a short walk from the Central St. Metra station, and is served by CTA buses. It also boasts the advantage of having a city parking lot right across the street, a luxury not usually available to most farmers markets. Its nearby neighbors include the Spice House, FoodStuffs, and the recently opened Old Town Oils, a seller of high-end olive oils and aged balsamic vinegars.

McGaw YMCA (Downtown), 1000 Grove St. (at Maple)
Wednesday, 9:30AM – 2:00PM

The smallest of the markets, and the latest to start up (6/22). The sole current vendor is Michigan-based 1st Orchards & Greenhouses (also a long-time fixture at the Evanston Downtown market), which carries a nice seasonal variety of produce and plants, including hot-house tomatoes, potatoes, strawberries, basil, rosemary. Also available: fresh eggs.




To Market with Mo: Avoir de l’oseille et avoir soupe

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Posted: June 27, 2011 at 9:55 am

S4010168There is a saying in French, avoir de l’oseille. Literal translation is ‘having sorrel’ but the saying is slang for ‘having money’.  Hum….but back to that in a moment and onto the weather in Chicago. Well into June and the term ‘cooler near the lake’ is getting old….I am ready for cooling salads not cooling temps. Needless to say these temps have put me back in a soup making mood….

 

Have I mentioned that the Farmers Market are not only a great source for locally grown seasonal produce but also provides an opportunity for us city folks to give growing some produce a go.  For years I have sourced my tomato plants, herbs, flowering hanging baskets and perennials at the Farmers Market.  A couple years ago I came across a beautiful red-veined long broad leafed variety of sorrel.  Sorrel.  Had never actually grown it before or eaten it but the tiny plant was beautiful and if nothing else thought it might add some interest in my small city garden.  Fast forward to now, and that little sorrel plant has come back this season not only triple the size, but seeding offspring as well. So you could say I am really ‘having some sorrel’ this year.

 

‘Sour spinach’ aka sorrel makes a wonderful and classic sauce for fish.  Melting the sorrel down in some shallots and adding white wine, cream, a squeeze of lemon, and salt and white pepper and a quick and impressive topping for salmon or a fleshy white fish.

 

The edible leaf the sorrel plant is high in vitamin A & C and has some potassium, calcium and magnesium. In addition to becoming sauce, this tangy tasting leaf is wonderful in salads, omelettes, purees, soups and my latest discovery as pesto.  But lets get back to soup, since I still have yet to install the air conditioning window units in June…

 

Following is my version of a classic sorrel soup.

 

Sorrel SoupS4010250

1 packed cup fresh sorrel (or if like me a bit more)

1 medium onion diced

1/2 stick of butter

1 lb white potatoes peeled and cubed

1 1/2 qt chicken stock (can sub water w/ lots or pepper & salt)

salt and pepper to taste

Optional garnish: squeeze of lemon, creme fraiche (sour cream or yogurt work as well).

 

Melt sorrel in a pot of sauteeing butter and onions.  Add chicken stock and heat to a simmer. Add diced potatoes and cook until potatoes are soft.  Puree the soup in a food processor. Return to soup pot and season to taste with salt and pepper.

(note — do not be put off my the color, which looks more like a green or brown lentil soup.  It’s all about the flavor.)

Garnish with a squeeze of lemon and a dollop of creme fraiche.

 




Still No Fava Beans on the Local Calendar

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Posted: June 24, 2011 at 9:34 am

Although some sources have let you know your fava bean window passed, we still look for them on our Local Calendar.  So far, we have not seen any.  We do, however, finally see a bit more in our markets beyond greens, asparagus and strawberries.   See below for our weekly guide to what is in season, now, in the Chicago area.

Tonight is one of the best events on the yearly Calendar, Slow Food Chicago’s annual Summer Solstice pot-luck.  It is not too late to get a ticket for the event.  See below for link.

A special treat for those who can make it to the Oak Park Farmer’s Market:  our friends Dennis and Emily Wettstein are offering many of their organic meats for special, reduced prices.   Stock up.

Pretty much all the area farmer’s markets are a-goin’.  Use our searchable, sortable, Market Locator to find a market by you.  Use our farmer’s market shopping tips to get the most out of your area market.

WHAT TO BUY NOW

Early season produce, including asparagus, still exists, but, finally, you can find more to buy and eat.  New produce around includes raspberries, zucchini/summer squash, broccoli, carrots, beets, and garlic scapes.  Continue to enjoy the special and seasonal tastes of young onions and garlic.

WHAT TO BUY SOON (OR LOOK FOR KEENLY)

Cherries, new potatoes, the first tomatoes beyond the indoor grown tomatoes from Iron Creek and Growing Power.

WHERE TO FIND LOCAL FOODS

These stores specialize in local foods:

City Provisions Deli in Ravenswood, Chicago

Downtown Farmstand in the Loop, Chicago

Green Grocer in West Town, Chicago

Dill Pickle Coop in Logan Square, Chicago

Marion Street Cheese Market in Oak Park

Butcher and Larder in Noble Square, Chicago

We continue to see Michigan asparagus at Whole Foods.

WHAT TO DO NOW

June 24 – Slow Food Chicago Summer Solstice Potluck – At the Chicago Honey Co-op. – Additional details here.

June 25 – City Provisions Farm Dinner with Dietzler Farms and Half Acre Beer – Bus leaves City Provisions Deli @ 1 PM

August 3 — Outstanding in the Field with Paul Virant of Vie and Bare Knuckle Farm, Northport, MI. There are a lot of great farm dinners with local farms this summer with Outstanding in the Field, but join The Local Beet in making the trek north for this one, as it promises to be special as anyone who has tasted Bare Knuckle’s pork belly from Duroc Cross hogs can attest. More information here.




U-Pick Strawberry Report

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Posted: June 21, 2011 at 11:27 am

It’s been a strawberry madhouse at my home! This past week, I’ve been able to pick up local strawberries at both the Geneva Green Market and the St. Charles Farmers Market. As has been said here, the strawberries were good, but maybe just a touch off in quality and taste as compared to last year. The farmers I’ve spoke with have really struggled with the amount of rain they’ve had – too much in too short of time. As a result, it seems to me the berries are a bit waterlogged and more fragile. Still, they are a ton better than what you’ll find in the grocery store at any given time, making them worth the buy. I’ve had to process and freeze them straightaway, though, as they are too fragile to last long in the refrigerator.

Stade_01

On Saturday, we headed up to Stade’s Farm in McHenry to try their u-pick strawberries. They are wonderful – big, juicy, sweet-tart berries that have a bit more staying power than the ones I had picked up previously. We’ve been snacking on them since Saturday, and they are still in good shape. According to their website and Facebook page, the picking is still going strong. As we all know, the season is extremely short, so if you have time – make the trek out to the farm and pick enough to put away for the year. Or, get your fix of fresh strawberry salads, smoothies, muffins and ice cream before it’s too late!


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Kid Eats at Sable Kitchen and Bar

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Posted: June 20, 2011 at 1:17 pm

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A restaurant question frequently posed to me is where can a family find a sustainably sourced meal and still feel welcome? Unfortunately, far too often, so called “family-friendly” restaurants serve produce drenched in pesticides and meat from animals hopped up on antibiotics to keep them “healthy” in wretched confined feeding operations. And I won’t even bring up the quality of offerings on the kids’ menu, often fried and always dumbed down.

Late last year, we took a family trip to London and I was amazed how much better the restaurants there were in welcoming families. Bumpkin, our favorite London place, didn’t have a kids’ menu, but instead told us that they could make a smaller version of any menu item. Zaika, a tony Indian restaurant in Kensington, “washed” Thor’s chicken before putting into the curry sauce so that its spice level would be acceptable to a younger palate.

Here in the states, it’s not as easy for families. But, I’m here to help. My family likes to eat out, but we’re also very conscious about the quality of food that we eat. As a result, I’ve done a lot of homework on restaurants that we’ll feel comfortable at but still serve the quality of ingredients that we enjoy at home. In this new series, I’ll share some of our favorite spots that treat and feed us well. One caveat, if you think it’s okay to let your child jump on the banquette seats (as three little girls did last week at Perennial Virant) or screech at the top his or her lungs through a meal (a delight we witnessed at Big Jones), stick with Chucky Cheese.

It was my birthday on Monday. To celebrate, we visited Sable Kitchen and Bar. As a hotel restaurant, Sable has an obligatory kids’ menu, but it’s not necessary. Sable’s menu is stocked with delicious small plates, creative reinterpretations of bar food. There’s the pretzel, paired with salty, smoky cheese sauce, and the fried cheese curds hot and ready to dip in slightly spicy house made ketchup. I love the Reuben rolls, phyllo wrapped around all the traditional fillings. The kitchen makes several varieties of flatbreads, including one topped with tomato and mozzarella, flavors meant to appeal to big and little kids. The little Locathor, however, prefers the grass-fed Dietzler Farm burger, a producer using sound methods to raise its livestock. The bar’s got a diverse cocktail list and will happily make a Shirley Temple without the artificially colored grenadine, prettied up with last year’s preserved cherries.

Sable’s chef Heather Terhune and her staff welcomed us all graciously. Heather and I are Facebook friends and I had let her know we’d been in. She stopped by our table and Thor was delighted that she remembered a few things about him including his love of music. And so, we had a wonderful family celebration only enhanced by our parting gift. On birthdays, Sable gives the guest of honor a gift: a cupcake kit: cake mix, maple sugar, and a recipe for Maple-Bourbon Cream Cheese Frosting, a delightfully adult way to celebrate.

Maple-Bourbon Cream Cheese Frosting
Enough to frost 12 cupcakes

Recipe Credit, Chef Heather Terhune, Sable Kitchen and Bar

5 ½ ounces cream cheese, softened
1/3 cup unsalted butter, softened
2 cups confectioner’s sugar, sifted
2 tablespoons maple syrup
1 tablespoon bourbon
¼ teaspoon kosher salt

Beat the cream cheese and butter with an electric mixer until light and fluffy. Mix in sugar, maple syrup, bourbon, and salt. Beat until smooth. Frost the cupcakes and sprinkle with maple sugar.




The Cookbook Addict: Food Lovers’ Guide to Chicago CSA Challenge

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Posted: June 20, 2011 at 12:36 pm

olvera

Summer just got a whole lot tastier with the debut of Food Lovers’ Guide to Chicago, a comprehensive and engaging new insider’s guide to the Chicago area’s burgeoning food scene. It’s all here, from the Michelin-starred heights of Alinea’s internationally acclaimed cuisine to the taco shops, pizza ovens, BBQ joints, hot dog stands, and food trucks that make Chicago neighborhoods a savory destination for locals and visitors alike. Veteran food writer Jennifer Olvera’s passion for local food doesn’t stop with restaurants. Neighborhood by neighborhood, she explores the rich mosaic of specialty food stores, ethnic markets, artisan butchers, fishmongers, farmers markets, and food festivals that make eating in Chicago an endlessly fascinating diversion. It’s thirsty work, so she catalogs the city’s wine bars, brew pubs, hipster bars, and artisan distillers, too—hey, someone had to do it!

There are separate chapters on notable suburban food destinations, a handy compilation of professional culinary programs, cooking schools for home cooks, as well as workshops on wine and other libations. Perhaps most valuable for for Local Beet readers, is a well-researched section on area farms, farm stands, and farmers markets. Sidebars pop up throughout the text that make note of emerging food trends, share insider tips about artisan foodstuffs, or whet our appetites with nuggets of local food lore.

Born and raised in the Midwest, Olvera earned her local-food cred as a DePaul college student and many of you may know her from her regular articles in the Chicago Sun Times food section or a past stint as a restaurant reviewer for Chicago magazine. She will be doing a book signing tomorrow, June 21, at 6:00 p.m. at the Barnes & Noble at 1 E. Jackson. Stop by to say hello, tell her about your favorite food spot, and pick up a copy of the book.

I caught up with Jennifer last week to learn more about how the book came together.

LOCAL BEET: How did the idea for the book came about?

JENNIFER OLVERA: This is a big city with so many beyond-ordinary things to eat and places to explore, and that can be daunting. It seemed time for Chicagoans—and visitors to Chicago—to have a comprehensive, single source for that information. That way no one—myself included—has to worry over where they should eat or shop. I think food enthusiasts, whether they’re inside or outside of the “industry,” essentially want that same thing.

LB: Did you visit every listing yourself?

JO: A labor of love and source of endless overindulgence, the book is a composite of my decade-plus experience as a food writer. That has meant hopping from jibaritos to cemitas to a hefty helping of Double Li in a single afternoon. Am I still hungry? Not really, but sometimes you have to “take one for the team.”

LB: In your Introduction, you emphasize that the book is “. . . for those respectful—and supportive— of small farms, appreciative of artisanal products, and intoxicated by the simple things . . . “ Is there a particularly gratifying connection you made with a food maker, farmer, or chef while writing the book

JO: Getting to know local farmers has been so meaningful. It’s such an important job, and they’re unsung heroes in my mind. Grazin’ Acres in Strawn, Ill., is a great example. I’ve visited on multiple occasions with my family—it’s where we buy grass-fed beef. I’ve seen how hard the Bachtolds work and learned why they do what they do. There are easier ways of doing things, but their way is better.  Consequently, I value what I eat so much more.

As a special shout-out for your support of local farmers and food producers, Olvera is teaming up with The Local Beet for the Food Lovers’ Guide to Chicago CSA Challenge. Running from July through September, each month we’ll ask you to post in the comments section your recipe for preparing the great local food found in your CSA box (be sure to tell us who your CSA farmer is). Submissions must be made before Midnight Central Time on the last day of the Challenge-month. Lucky winners (chosen by Olvera and The Cookbook Addict) will receive a signed copy of Food Lovers’ Guide to Chicago.

For July, it’s CSA Salad Challenge: Tell us how you use your July CSA haul to make a salad with local food from your box. Extra credit will be awarded for creative (and appetizing) use of the greatest number of ingredients from the box—bonus points if you can concoct a dressing from one or more of the ingredients to be found in the box. Let the challenge begin!


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Last Minute: Dinner with Local Hickory Creek Wines, 6/21 @ Marion Street Cheese Market

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Posted: June 20, 2011 at 10:12 am

Apologies for the last minute notice, but Marion Street Cheese Market (the best purveyor of cheese in the area, IMHO) is hosting a wine dinner with Mike deSchaaf, the winemaker for Hickory Creek wines, tomorrow, June 21.  Hickory Creek grows all of its grapes for its wines in the Baroda, Michigan area.  Even I haven’t tried Hickory Creek wine yet, so it’s a great opportunity to sample this wine here in Chicagoland.  Details here.




Chickpea Salad with Toasted Spices and Yogurt Dressing

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Posted: June 18, 2011 at 3:03 pm

Editor’s Introduction:  For those of you not already familiar with Jen Mayer, she is an intrepid blogger, and veteran subscriber to Angelic Organics and Harvest Moon Organics CSAs.  Got kohlrabi?  Too many salad greens, because it’s early June?  As a veteran CSA subscriber, she’s here to write about her weekly CSA box, and if we’re lucky, help us figure out what to make from the produce in our CSA boxes, as only someone who is accustomed to being “on the cusp” of seasonality can do.  You can also find Jen on her blog, 24 boxes (a reference to the number of boxes a full-season CSA subscribe receives).  P.S.  Be sure to click on Jen’s PDF versions of her recipes, for a beautiful ready-to-print version. – WAA

The first box of the season is always met with anticipation and excitement. I can count on beautiful, purple scallions making an appearance in the first few Angelic Organics boxes. I love the bright burst of color they add to a dish. This salad teases and tantalizes three of your senses – The sounds of the toasted spices sizzling and popping in the pan. The fragrance of the spices and ghee as they collide with the chickpeas. And then, there’s the taste – creamy, cool from the yogurt, warm and nutty from the spices and chickpeas. What better way to make use of those gorgeous, purple scallions?

Chickpea Salad with Toasted Spices and Yogurt Dressing
Click here for a print-friendly PDF file

ingredients
1 tablespoon ghee or olive oil
1 teaspoon mustard seeds
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
1 teaspoon fennel seeds
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
2 (1 5 ounce) cans chickpeas (garbanzo beans)
3/4 cup thick Greek yogurt
1-1/2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
3 scallions, thinly sliced
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro
1/4 cup chopped fresh mint
kosher salt
fresh black pepper

first
In a small bowl, combine yogurt, lemon juice, scallions, cilantro and mint. Set aside. Rinse and drain chickpeas and place in a large bowl. Set aside.

next
In a pan over medium, heat ghee or olive oil. Add mustard seeds and coo for 1 minute, stirring constantly. Add cumin, fennel and red pepper flake. Continue to stir until spices are fragrant and the mustard seeds start to pop, approximately 30 seconds to 1 minute. Immediately remove from heat.

Be careful! The hot mustard seeds can sputter and jump, and the cumin seeds can go from toasted to burnt in a flash.

last
Pour warm spices and ghee over chickpeas and stir. Add yogurt dressing, salt and pepper. Stir to combine. Adjust seasonings to taste and serve warm or room temperature.




Are There Fava Beans With This Local Calendar? [UPDATE: THERE ARE!]

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Posted: June 17, 2011 at 4:54 pm

Locavores go nuts over the prospect of fava beans (preferably with some Prairie Fruit Farm’s sheep’s milk pecorino).  See, fava beans are a classic “Spring” vegetable, and are certainly associated with that time of year in certain cuisines.  And if you find yourself in Italy or Mexico during the Spring, you can, I am pretty sure, enjoy fresh favas.  If you rely on local, seasonal produce, however, in the Chicago area, you cannot enjoy fresh favas as a Spring vegetable.  Fava beans are not to be found with Local Calendar.  Do keep an eye on future Local Calendars for when we do have local favas.  [Update: Intrepid Beet Marketeer Moira Tuffy found favas from Nichols.]  You will notice a difference.

Yet, I’ve seen, more than a few times, stories of fava bean dishes and exhortations to grab these dishes while the favas are around.  There not around.  When they come around, we’ll tell you with the Local Calendar. We’ll tell you about grilling favas, an idea we got from Chad Nichols of Nichols Farm.  Eat what’s in season.  Now.  When favas come into season, eat them.

To find a fava-less farmer’s market, use our searchable, sortable, Market Locator.  To best navigate a fava-less farmer’s market use our farmer’s market shopping tips.

WHAT TO BUY NOW

The markets remain about the same as last week, with increases mostly in the pea population and also a few new crops, most likely to be spotted, kohlrabi.  See below for what else.

Strawberries!  Buy enough to make jam.  As Melissa Graham, the Sustainable Cook, says, eat strawberries in your cereals, in your yogurt, in your smoothies, and in your salsa.   Playing in the same game, former chef and LTHForum wiseguy, KennyZ, suggests using strawberries in place of tomatoes in a “Caprese” salad.

Peas are coming into season.  Take advantage of all the varieties of peas there: shell peas, sugar snaps, and snow peas. Remember peas are one of the best vegetables to put away for later local eating.  Not only do frozen peas taste pretty darn, it’s better to freeze your peas if you cannot get to them within a few days of harvest.

Continue to take advantage of ample crops of asparagus, (only a few more weeks left!), spinach, turnips, and lettuces.  More onions enter the market.

WHAT TO BUY SOON (OR LOOK FOR KEENLY)

Cherries, blueberries; new potatoes

WHERE TO FIND LOCAL FOODS

These stores specialize in local foods:

City Provisions Deli in Ravenswood, Chicago

Downtown Farmstand in the Loop, Chicago

Green Grocer in West Town, Chicago

Dill Pickle Coop in Logan Square, Chicago

Marion Street Cheese Market in Oak Park

Butcher and Larder in Noble Square, Chicago

We saw Michigan asparagus at Whole Foods this week.

WHAT TO DO NOW

July 21 — Green City Market Chef’s BBQ.  The big annual event for the GCM.  5:30-8.

August 3 — Outstanding in the Field with Paul Virant of Vie and Bare Knuckle Farm, Northport, MI. There are a lot of great farm dinners with local farms this summer with Outstanding in the Field, but join The Local Beet in making the trek north for this one, as it promises to be special as anyone who has tasted Bare Knuckle’s pork belly from Duroc Cross hogs can attest. More information here.




Beet Guide to Eating Local (Eastern/Central Wisconsin Edition)

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Posted: June 17, 2011 at 11:54 am

Wisconsin is a land of many local culinary treasures. You don’t need to check out the girth of many natives to know it.

Every year since I was born (several centuries ago), I’ve made the trek from the Chicago area to Northern Wisconsin. We have a family place about half way between Manitowish Waters and Boulder Junction. It’s a long drive (about six hours, if the Wisconsin police are all safely stowed away in their local doughnut shops), but there are plenty of highlights along the way.

For anyone who wants to drive from Chicagoland to the Northwoods in the Minocqua/Eagle River area, there are two primary routes — through Milwaukee, or through Madison. In this installment, we’ll explore the Milwaukee route.

Here, for your touring pleasure, is a non-comprehensive, totally idiosyncratic list of a few possibly interesting stops:

On your way out of the Chicago area, taking I-94 is usually the fastest route. But taking a slightly more leisurely route along US 41 allows a few stops you’d otherwise miss.

Captain Porky’s, at the corner of US Route 41 and Wadsworth Rd. is a great place for seafood (much of it fried), and many items fresh from the family farm.  www.CaptainPorky.com

Captain Porky’s also offers BBQ, but if that’s what you’re in the mood for, make your stop a little sooner. Big Ed’s (2501 Martin Luther King Jr. Dr. North Chicago) is the place to go – friendly staff, an authentic Chicago-style aquarium smoker, and BBQ at the same level as many of the better joints in the city. And unlike some of the city’s best BBQ purveyors, you don’t have to order through bulletproof glass at Big Ed’s. www.bigedsllc.com

US 41 merges into I-94 just south of the Illinois-Wisconsin border. Crossing over into the land of beer, brats and cheese, The Brat Stop (12304 75th Street, Kenosha, www.bratstop.com) is a classic. And not just for brats (almost 14 million sold) – there’s entertainment, too – stars gracing the stage have included The Charlie Daniels Band, Styx, Cheap Trick, Foghat, The Guess Who, Molly Hatchet, Joan Jett, Eddie Money, Trace Adkins and Sugar Land, just to mention a few…..

The Brat Stop also is a source for novelty-shaped cheese (and, being as ecumenical as they are, they offer shapes for fans of either the Green Bay Packers or the Chicago Bears) … but if your goal is good, interesting cheese, not just average cheese in a funky shape, there’s better cheese a little further up the road.

In fact, virtually any major Wisconsin cheese, beer or wine you could ever want is just up the road, at Woodman’s, a massive grocery just off I-94 to the east on 120th Avenue, still in Kenosha. As a beer guy, I can say not only is the beer selection excellent, but prices are, too. www.woodmans-food.com

photo courtesy wiscountdown.info

photo courtesy wiscountdown.info

But possibly the best selection of beer, cheese, sausages, wines, and other local Wisconsin foodstuffs is at the iconic Mars’ Cheese Castle – same exit as Woodman’s, but just west of the expressway (2800 120th Avenue). Ensconced in new, larger digs this year, the building really does now look more-than-vaguely like a castle, and is filled with all sorts of Wisconsin’s finest foods.  Order lunch at the counter, and maybe accompany it with a great Wisconsin beer at the bar (we’re big on anything from New Glarus).

For a smaller, less touristy place, Bobby Nelson’s (2924 120th Avenue) is right down the street, with, again, local cheeses and sausages, but also pickled eggs, pickled asparagus, pickled green beans and mushrooms. The shop’s namesake was a former pro wrestler who passed away in 2002 (and, despite speculation by some, he was not the inventor of the half-nelson and full-nelson wrestling holds). Celebrate his legacy by buying your cheese curds from his place.

Among the better family-friendly food experiences, Apple Holler is a few exits further up I-94, at 5006 S. Sylvania Avenue in Sturtevant. Basically an elaborate farm with many u-pick options, a down-home friendly restaurant, and many kids’ activities – even kid-friendly theater performances – it’s worth a stop. www.appleholler.com

Getting up to Milwaukee, we’ve already reported on Milwaukee breweries and brewpubs worth visiting. http://www.thelocalbeet.com/2009/06/22/beer-hunting-in-greater-milwaukee/

Milwaukee has other local food options, too – most of them beer-friendly. For example, Usingers is a Milwaukee classic, making traditional old-world style sausages since 1880. Look for it at 1030 N. Old World Third Street. www.usinger.com

Compared to, say, Cleveland’s West Side Market, or Montreal’s Marche Jean Talon, Milwaukee’s Public Market (400 North Water St.) is smaller, and may be a bit more glitzy/commercial. But it’s a great source for local Wisconsin foods, and it has tastings, cooking classes, and other features. It’s in Milwaukee’s Historic Third Ward area, so if you choose not to eat at the market, there are plenty of restaurants, not to mention all the shops and galleries, within a few blocks. www.milwaukeepublicmarket.org

Heading north out of Milwaukee on US 41 toward Oshkosh is Held’s Meat Market, at 480 Kettle Moraine Dr N in Slinger. Known for their beef jerky, Held’s has been producing meats and sausages since 1886, and they claim to use an old-fashioned smoking style for their meats that modern equipment can’t match.

Glacier Ridge Animal Farm is a working bison farm that’s also a small, kid-friendly zoo (including a petting zoo area). It’s nine miles north of Fond du Lac at the Hwy N exit, at N9458 Ridge Road in Van Dyne. Buy your bison and elk meat to take home here. www.glacierridgeanimalfarm.com/

Passing through Oshkosh (b’gosh!) our normal route takes us west on US 10, toward Stevens Point – now becoming a mini beer mecca

But before we get to Stevens Point, there’s a necessary stop for cheese, about 5 miles off US 10. There are lots of smaller, artisanal cheese producers in Wisconsin, but Union Star 7742 County Road II, in Fremont (actually, Zittau) is possibly the quintessential example of a tiny, family-run old-school cheesemaker. The shop consists of four or five tables and a few refrigerated cases in one corner of the barn-like factory. You won’t find hi-falutin’ bries or goat cheeses made here – instead, think of classic versions of brick, Colby, and, especially, aged cheddars – many with additional flavorings mixed in. unionstarcheese.com

Not all the people who visit Union Star look this questionable

Not all the people who visit Union Star look this questionable

Less than an hour from Union Star is the most ecologically friendly brewery in Wisconsin – Central Waters, in an industrial park at 351 Allen St. in Amherst – just east of Stevens Point. 24 solar panels, energy efficient heating, recycled-product packaging – the packaging may not be as flashy as others, but it’s all eminently recyclable. Oh, and the beers? Be sure to try some of the hoppier offerings, like Happy Heron Pale Ale and Glacial Trail IPA. These guys know their hops. Unfortunately, the tap room is open only Fridays and Saturdays, late afternoon to 9 pm. www.centralwaters.com

Central Waters' nondescript building

Central Waters' nondescript building

Sadly, the tap house at Central Waters is only open two days a week

Sadly, the tap house at Central Waters is only open two days a week

Another small brewer, just south of Stevens Point, is O’so Brewing, in a strip mall at 1812 Post Road in Plover. O’so prides itself on “Freestyle Brewing.” Due to their limited distribution, I haven’t been able to try some of their newer, more experimental brews, but the mainstream beers have been solid, to say the least. One of their lighter beers – probably closest to a Kölsch style, takes its name from the brewery’s name – it’s called “The Big O.” Don’t ask me about the disgusting story I have regarding this excellent, flavorful beer. www.osobrewing.com

The big guy (relatively speaking) in the area is Stevens Point Brewing – the fifth oldest continually operating brewery in the country. Point, at 2617 Water St. in Stevens Point, has fascinating tours through the historic brewery, ending with samples. Once a brewer of mainstream lawnmower beer for the surrounding area (as they said, “When you’re out of Point, you’re out of town.”), Point has become a significant craft brewer, especially with its Whole Hog line of specialty beers. Point also does a significant amount of contract brewing – for example, it brews most of Capital Brewing’s (from Middleton, near Madison) bottled beers, and it also acquired the James Page beer business, formerly of Minnesota. In our family, we know we’re in Wisconsin when we’re drinking Point Beer. www.pointbeer.com

Only if you're here, are you not out of Point

Only if you're here, are you not out of Point

From Stevens Point, we head north on US 51 (aka I-39) toward Wausau. Along the way, and a few miles off the highway, is perhaps the best-known and most widely distributed of Wisconsin’s premium meat processors — Nueske’s. The smoked hams, bacon, and smoked sausages are not hard to find at better butchers, but the full line is available at the source, 1390 E. Grand Ave. in Wittenberg. www.nueskes.com

From Nueske’s, we’re only about two hours from our destination — Manitowish Waters. But first, driving up along US 51, around Wausau, you can’t help but notice small fields with dark agricultural fabric suspended four feet or so above the ground. It’s one of Wisconsin’s most interesting crops. It’s ginseng. Wisconsin, and the Wausau area in particular, has unique microclimates and soil qualities that make Wisconsin ginseng among the most valuable worldwide – particularly among Asian ginseng connoisseurs. In the area, you can even buy locally grown ginseng products in some of the larger gas stations. www.ginsengboard.com

As you head north out of Wausau, you’ll notice farmland giving way to forests and lakes. Two crops dominate the Northwoods around our destination — cranberries and wild rice

Over half the nation’s cranberries are grown in Wisconsin. Most people would probably guess Massachusetts – after all, the best-known brand associated with cranberries is Ocean Spray (a Massachusetts-based agricultural cooperative), and not much spray from any ocean finds its way into Wisconsin. Cranberry growers offer free tours every Friday morning at 10 a.m. in season, starting at the Manitowish Waters Community Center, then going out to a working cranberry bog. Another good family activity. www.manitowishwaters.org/…/cranberry-marsh-tours.html

I have read tales from my aunts and uncles about how, in the early 20th century, the Indians would come through our lake in their canoes, to get to Rice Creek, where they would use long poles to thresh the wild rice off its stalks. The rice would drop into the bottom of their canoes, and then they’d take it, let it ferment in the sun, then toss it in the wind to get rid of the chaff. Today, it’s not uncommon in the area to see gas stations selling various grades of wild rice, for as little as $2.50/lb. We’ve discussed wild rice, and Minoqua Brewing’s Wild Rice Beer, here. www.thelocalbeet.com/2009/07/07/minoqua-rice-in-beer-thats-wild/

Of course, this merely scratches the surface of Wisconsin’s food treasures. Maybe sometime we’ll get into the area around Madison and areas west and north from there. In the meantime, get going, and travel north into Wisconsin, and tell me about any significant stops I’ve probably missed.




The Cookbook Addict: Top 10 Local Eating Cookbooks, Part 2

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Posted: June 16, 2011 at 2:55 pm

Photos by Sharon Hoogstraten

The Cookbook Addict’s Top Ten Essential Eat-Local Cookbooks, Part 2

Most afternoons you’ll find me thinking about tonight’s dinner, idly thumbing through one of the cookbooks in the first half of my Top 10 Essential Local Eating Cookbooks. The five books I chose to lead the list are so deeply ingrained in my cooking psyche their recipes drift in and out of my mind like favorite songs—flipping through their pages is like scrolling through a well-loved playlist. While a favorite weeknight supper may be as satisfying as a familiar tune, cooking is also communion, and sharing our table with friends and family is one of life’s essential pleasures. My Top 10 list would be incomplete without the cookbooks I turn to when planning a dinner party. For a special meal I want to bring on a little jazz, so I reach for menu-focused cookbooks to study the rhythm and flow of courses and the harmonious interplay of flavors and textures. I’ll share two that suit my entertaining style and a third for ending special meals on a sweet note. Preserving the food I grow or buy at the farmers market is another essential facet of local eating and cooking. So many inventive books about the art of canning, pickling, and jam making have been published in the last few years that my preserving bookshelf is overflowing with new titles. I’ll tell you more about some of these newcomers in a future post, but for now I’d like to introduce you to a pair of books from my preserving guru—one on pickling, one on sweet preserves. Both are comprehensive and trusted resources for “putting up” the seasons’ bounty.

sundaysuppers

6. Sunday Suppers at Lucques by Susan Goin

Now and then you simply hit it off with someone you’ve just met. That’s how I felt the first time I flipped through Sunday Suppers at Lucques, Susan Goin’s celebration of the family meals from her childhood. I’d found a kindred spirit who cherishes the comforting warmth of a Sunday spent around the table with loved ones as much as I do. What sealed our instant bond, though, is the graceful way she combines bold flavors and textures with a painterly eye for color on the plate. Within minutes the lively flow of courses and rustic elegance animating her recipes propelled me into the kitchen to riff on the menus. Organized in four sections corresponding to the seasons (even Los Angeles chefs have a winter, of sorts, to contend with), Goin composes 32 pitch-perfect three-course menus using local, sustainable food gleaned from her farmers market. The menus are down-to-earth but feel special enough for company and I appreciate that she includes both a fish and a meat option for the main course. Each section opens with a brief introductory essay and a seasonal “Market Report” filled with Goin’s discerning advice and infectious enthusiasm—reading the reports is like walking through my own farmers market with a savvy friend. While scanning her summer menus last August, I found one perfect for a late-summer barbeque. It begins with the vivid “Yellow Tomato Gazpacho,” a noble use for the first heirloom Pineapple tomatoes I’d harvested from our garden earlier in the day. Because some of the friends joining us that evening don’t eat meat, I decided to serve both of Goin’s main course options for this menu. In “Grilled Halibut à la Niçoise,” a warm tangle of slender string beans, roasted potatoes, cherry tomatoes, and hard-cooked farm egg make a colorful nest for halibut fillets, everything glossed with a veil of savory anchovy butter. For carnivores, Goin skewers garlicky thyme-infused lamb on rosemary branches, grills it over a hardwood fire, and finishes the smoky meat with a drizzle of pungent salsa verde spiked with feta cheese. Served on a pillow of pale green lima bean puree, the salty feta, suave puree, and herbal bite from the sauce were a brilliant foil for the tender lamb. To end the meal, a gratin of raspberries uses one of those rare, nearly effortless techniques that yield a dessert so sophisticated no one would guess how simple it is to prepare. (It works for any summer berry or stone fruit, too.) Goin’s fall menus feel tailor-made for our Midwest harvest. A warming supper of “Pork Chops with Sautéed Quince, Apples, and Potatoes” was comforting and savory-sweet on a crisp late-October evening. We made it with La Pryor loin chops, honeycrisp apples, and fragrant quinces I bought from Oriana Kruszewski at the Green City Market. Even the approach of a Chicago winter is no match for Goin’s exuberant palate. When the wind whips off the lake we can enjoy the striking contrast of textures in “Broccoli with Burrata, Pine Nuts, and Warm Anchovy Vinaigrette,” her satisfying winter analog to a summer Caprese salad. Jewel-like colors in “Winter Vegetables Bagna Cauda,” a beautiful plate of slender Purple Haze carrots, ivory cauliflower, rosy leaves of Treviso radicchio, and deep green broccoli, glowed like a Renaissance tapestry on my holiday table, all sourced from the indoor Green City Market or harvested beneath heavy row covers in our December garden. Inspired by Goin’s imaginative menus, local eating becomes a colorful, flavorful, four-season adventure.

cookingbyhand

7. Cooking by Hand by Paul Bertolli

While Susan Goin’s menus bring the improvisational energy of jazz to my table, Paul Bertolli’s Cooking by Hand invokes the intimate virtuosity of chamber music. In ten absorbing, deeply personal, often unconventional essays (with recipes), Bertolli shares his mastery of rustic Italian cooking, wielding its traditional raw materials and exacting techniques with fluid harmony. What, you might ask, does Italian cooking have to do with local eating in Chicago? Just about everything, it turns out. “Food is determined by place and inseparable from it,” he says in his Introduction, “and nourishment . . . is not only a matter of filling one’s belly but of taking part in a daily ritual that celebrates and confirms a sense of belonging to the food and to the long, recurrent traditions of a place.” And so in essays like “Ripeness,” “Twelve Ways of Looking at a Tomato,” and “A Pasta Primer” we learn from Bertolli’s keen observations and obsessive attention to nuances of flavor and texture how to truly taste, savor, and recognize the essential character inherent in our own local food. In “Bottom-Up Cooking” he demonstrates the Italian way to extract deeply satisfying, soulful flavor from poultry or meat while “The Whole Hog,” a thorough introduction to preparing and curing Italian salumi, is the inspiration many local chefs cite for their house-made charcuterie plates. “Cooking Backward” is Bertolli’s lucid account of how he conceives the progression of a meal, and by extension, plans a menu. This, for me, is among the most important sections of the book and one I often turn to when planning a dinner party. The irony, for those who know me, is he starts planning with dessert! Bertolli explains, “Beginning with dessert, I find myself returning to the simple principle that variety and contrast are the keys to sustaining interest in the forward moving elements of a meal.” He illustrates the principle with fourteen five-course menus, each annotated in fascinating detail with an outline of his thought process. Every step reveals his mastery of form and flavor, from meditations on seasonal food, to studies of a menu’s weight, texture, or color, to explorations of conceptual ideas like the “shape” of a menu or the essential qualities and character of “refreshment.” Bertolli’s cooking backward elevates the food on my table like a virtuoso performance heightens a favorite piece of music.

puredessert

8. Pure Dessert by Alice Medrich

Did I mention that dessert rarely appears on our table? Matt doesn’t have a sweet tooth, and while I might indulge in the occasional (OK, daily) piece of dark chocolate, it seems too great an investment of time and good ingredients to bake a cake or roll a pastry crust when we’re both indifferent to dessert. And, to be honest, my improvisational nature chafes against the precise science of baking—I have trouble following directions. But dinner for friends doesn’t seem complete without dessert and birthdays or other celebrations demand it. In my favorite dessert cookbook, Pure Dessert, Alice Medrich muses, “The best chefs cook savory food simply, with the best ingredients. That’s how I like to eat. Why don’t we make more desserts that way? [We] need an infusion of new and better ingredients and new approaches to working with them.” Amen to that! Medrich points us to our backyards or farmers markets for artisanal dairy products, local fruit, nuts, honey, flowers, and herbs and her smart, simple techniques enhance rather than hide the character of these great raw materials. “Sensational Strawberry Sorbet”—a recipe title with a little more drama than its four ingredients might warrant (strawberries, sugar, water, a few drops of lemon juice)—delivers flavor that lives up to the hype. She purees raw berries with a bit of sugar then mixes in a small portion of mashed, lightly cooked fruit. This ingenious method tempers the bright, sweet-tart quality of the raw berries with rich, rounded nuances from the cooked fruit to produce a complex and compelling spectrum of flavors. Try it! Hands down, it’s the best strawberry sorbet you’ll ever taste. It works for raspberries and blackberries, too. Like me, Medrich objects to over-sweet and too-rich desserts. Clarity of flavor is her Holy Grail and she achieves this by stripping out ingredients that obscure flavor or compromise texture. If her desserts are less sweet or rich, that’s just a bonus. In simple and elegant baked goods based on whole grains, Medrich cleverly mitigates formation of the gluten that typically makes “healthy” deserts tough and leaden. Kamut, spelt, buckwheat, corn, and whole wheat appear in her cakes and cookies, not for their nutritional virtue but because they contribute rich flavor, texture, and tenderness. “Whole Wheat Sablés” sound like penance, but these tender, buttery cookies are more delicious and interesting because of the whole-grain goodness. Combined with hazelnuts or cacao nibs, as Medrich suggest in her recipe variations, the cookies are addictive. I keep a parchment-wrapped roll of dough in the freezer to slice and bake on demand. They make a splendid tea cookie when a friend drops by or a quick last-minute dessert served alone or with a scoop of ice cream (her “Sour Cream Ice Cream” is a revelation). Medrich’s simple technique for cakes whirred together in a food processor is a marvel. In “Italian Chocolate-Almond Torte” she pulses together four ingredients (whole almonds, chopped unsweetened chocolate, sugar, and salt) in a food processor until reduced to the size of breadcrumbs, then folds in egg whites whipped to soft peaks. Bake 30 minutes. Done. In less than an hour I have a moist, light cake with a nutty crumb and an intense bitter-chocolate edge that I find irresistible. (This fall, instead of almonds, I’ll try swapping in local pecans from Three Sisters Farms.) Matt asks for this cake on his birthday. That says it all.

picklingjam

9. and 10. The Joy of Pickling and The Joy of Jams, Jellies, and Sweet Preserves by Linda Ziedrich

As a suburban teenager I learned from a kind neighbor how to “put up” fruits and vegetables. Mrs. Harsten followed the Ball Blue Book with a fanatic’s zeal, so we loaded our sweet preserves with sugar and packaged pectin, drowned our vegetables in vinegar and salt, then cooked the life out of everything in a pressure canner or water bath. While proud of my new skills, the sad truth is the food wasn’t very good. Cloying sweet-sour dilly beans and rubbery grape jelly held little appeal, even for my adolescent palate. My taste in preserved food evolved as I was exposed to exotic chutneys and kimchi in ethnic restaurants, mostarda in Northern Italy, brandied and pickled fruit in southwest France, and the glorious repertoire of British marmalades and fruit preserves. It was impossible to go back to Mrs. Harsten’s way. Happily, Linda Ziedrich stepped into the breach with two volumes, The Joy of Pickling and The Joy of Jams, Jellies, and Sweet Preserves. Ziedrich inspires confidence with a clear introduction to the science behind pickling and preserving, a comprehensive outline of the equipment needed, and step-by-step instructions for prepping and processing the raw ingredient. While her tone is not so stern or dire as Mrs. Harsten’s canning bible, Ziedrich tolerates no nonsense. Her firm assertions about why a step or ingredient is critical to the process—whether for the sake of safety or flavor—carries the right balance of admonition tempered by reason so that directions-averse people like me toe the line. With only two in my household, I appreciate that Ziedrich’s recipes yield manageable amounts—just enough to put in the pantry with a few jars left over for gift giving.

The Joy of Pickling’s encyclopedic scope covers every imaginable type of pickle. The fresh, sweet, and fermented pickled vegetables and fruit typically found on Midwest farm tables are well represented across several chapters. Ziedrich devotes an entire chapter to fermented cabbage with Asian and European accents and another to unusual pickles made with soy, miso, and rice bran. The short chapter, “Freezer Pickles,” changed my reaction to our annual cucumber glut from dread to anticipation. Instead of turning to the mushy mess I expected, these extraordinary, fresh-tasting herb-flecked cucumber pickles retain their crunchy texture and bright herbal notes in the freezer thanks to the alchemy of vinegar, sugar, and salt. Now those excess cucumbers go into the deep freeze to perk up sandwiches (think Vietnamese bánh mì) or winter gratins of grain or rice. The Joy of Pickling also includes more than 40 recipes for relishes, chutneys, and savory-sweet sauces (nine kinds of ketchup!) and closes with a section on pickled meat, fish, and eggs. I’ve bookmarked “Rhubarb Chutney,” “Chowchow,” and “Cranberry Ketchup” for this year’s pantry experiments but with 250 recipes I will mine this exciting trove for many seasons to come.

Homemade jams and jellies hold an exalted place in my pantry. A jar of blackberry jam perfumed with rose geranium has the power to transform a sleet-lashed February morning from bleak to bearable. Although we’re tempted to consume our entire berry harvest fresh, I set aside enough every year to keep us in jam until the next spring. In The Joy of Jams, Jellies, and Other Sweet Preserves Ziedrich’s notion of a great sweet preserve completely aligns with mine—no packaged pectin, as little sugar as possible, and quick cooking in small batches to keep flavors fresh and colors vibrant. She includes every fruit from the orchard, bush, cane, or garden in her book, as well as flowers and some fruits we commonly think of as vegetables like eggplants, peppers, pumpkins, tomatoes, and tomatillos. I always fill my pantry with apricot, blackberry, currant, and raspberry jams and jellies but I’ve recently developed a minor obsession with what I think of as Ziedrich’s savory preserves. “Red Pepper Jelly,” “Cardamom-Infused Quince Paste,” “Fig Jam Spiced with Fennel and Bay” are a few of the outstanding recipes I’ve tried. They are terrific with cheese or charcuterie plates and make unusual hostess and holiday gifts. If we have an abundant crop this year, I’ll also make blackberry and raspberry syrups and vinegars. They brighten pancakes and salad dressings, and both also make refreshing, healthy, non-alcoholic drinks when mixed with water or seltzer—perfect for kids or teetotaler friends and one more deliciously local way to welcome everyone to my table.




What do you think of this season’s strawberries?

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Posted: June 16, 2011 at 12:34 pm

As you know, the markets have gone red with strawberries (and rhubarb).  But — I keep hearing reports that this season’s strawberries are not great.  I’ve been out-of-the-country for the last week, so I did not have my first local strawberry until today (from Klug Farms).  I thought it was delicious, sweet, tart, ripe, tender.  Nothing wrong there.

So what are your market reports about this year’s strawberries?  If you’ve found some particularly good ones, let us know where.


4 Comments



Standing in line for local beer

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Posted: June 11, 2011 at 2:13 am

What is it about beer that makes otherwise relatively sane people want to wait in long lines?

I spent almost two hours in line to purchase four bottles of Dark Lord from Three Floyds (Munster, IN) about six weeks ago. Today wasn’t as bad – it was only about an hour in the line before I was able to purchase four bottles of  Small Animal Big Machine – the new collaboration between Chicago’s Half Acre and Pipeworks, and Belgium’s De Struise breweries.

Long lines for Small Animal Big Machine beer

Long lines for Small Animal Big Machine beer

(The guys from De Struise have been making the rounds with their collaborations lately, including Shark Pants, with Three Floyds, and, with New Albanian, [across the river from Louisville in New Albany, IN], Naughty Girl, described as a “willfully disobedient India Blonde Ale.”)

Based on the small samples Half Acre was handing out to those who had been in line 45 minutes or more (including yours truly), Small Animal Big Machine is a very fine fruit beer, with red currant flavor up front, and a slight sourness contrasting with the inherent sweetness of the fruit and malts.  I’ll pop open a bottle this weekend with friends, but the remaining three bottles (from my four bottle limit) are already down in the basement, next to my bottles of Dark Lord. Both should age well, and I’m confident both will become much more complex in the next year or two.

I have some of this. You probably don't. Now do you want to be my friend?

I have some of this. You probably don't. Now do you want to be my friend?

But what is it that makes people want to wait in long lines for a new beer release?

“Well, it’s a limited bottling, and you won’t be able to ever get it again,” said a new best friend who was two people behind me in line. I’m sure that’s part of it … but only a part. “Beer guys like to stand in lines … they enjoy the instant camaraderie” said another. I’m sure that’s part of the reason, too. But it doesn’t completely explain the phenomenon.

Certainly, people line up for the latest version of the iPhone and iPad, and people line up to be the first to see Hollywood’s latest drek, but those are all about being first. It gives you the right to tell friends “I’m really cool – I saw this (or I got this thing) before you did.” Those examples don’t have the added factor of the scarcity of the products that cause folks to wait in long lines. A month later you can still buy the same iPhone that people waited in line for.

Only about 1,200 22 oz. bottles of Small Animal Big Machine were made. It sold out by early evening, Friday. Almost certainly, everyone who bought a bottle spent at least an hour or so in line.

I should check with our Local Beet wine correspondent, Wendy, on whether or not new local wine releases generate lines around the block. I don’t think they do.

So, what is it about craft beers that generates such passion? Maybe some of our dear readers of the Local Beet can clue me in.

In the meantime, I’m opening a bottle of Small Animal Big Machine for myself Saturday night. I might let a friend or two have a sip. Or maybe not. None of them waited in line for it.


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