Monday, November 29, 2010

Red Carrot's Anti-Fast Food Guidebook Entitled "Bad Stuff"

Dinner conversations in our house can be interesting.

Over spaghetti squash with clam sauce, Mike and I were talking politics. I listened in on today's Let's Move conference call in which, Michelle Obama launched the Faith and Community prong of the East Wing's initiative. My description of it led to a discussion of one of our favorite topics to hate, Sarah I-Can-See-Russia-From-My-House Palin.

We've never shied away from political discussion in front of Thor so we explained the Yukon Queen's new attack against Michelle Obama, how Palin is defending the right of parents to make their children fat. We then talked about San Francisco's Happy Meal "ban." This gave Red Carrot's founder an idea.

His idea is a book, an Anti-Fast Food Guidebook entitled "Bad Stuff," with chapters on all the bad fast food places like McDonalds, Taco-Bell, and Jack-in-the-Box (not Chipotle though) and why you shouldn't eat at them.

He also wanted to write a section on how fast food companies "cheat." As the son of two attorneys, he divided his reasoning into four parts:

1. Fast food companies use expensive commercials during kids programs to get kids interested, which is unfair because healthy food doesn't have an advertising budget.

2. Fast food companies use science to develop products that appeal to kids' palates.

3. Fast food companies steal. [This was really interesting. He explained (with visual props) that it wasn't like stealing my spoon, but instead stealing my mind, by doing focus groups to gather information about our palates].

4. Fast food companies use toys to incentivize kids to eat bad food.

Little Locathor is ready to take on Mamma Grizzly in all out food politic warfare. I'm not sure she can out-reason the first grader. Bring it Palin.

Reposted as part of Real Food Fridays

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Little Locathor Saves the Day or at Least the Apple Pie


Kids can do so much in the kitchen - peel, roll, mash, stir, and chop. They can also save recipes from recipe oblivion.

It's been a while since I've followed recipes too closely. Especially, at the holidays when I'm serving multiples courses, I'm usually just throwing stuff together. Hopefully, if it turns out great, I can piece it together from cursory notes or my memory. I think that these may not be the most reliable resource much longer.

After our feast, I served a pumpkin cheesecake and apple pie. The former and richer of the two overshadowed the latter at first, but the apple pie revealed its charms the next day. A pie tasting better the following day? Yup.

Following in our family tradition of Thanksgiving pie for breakfast, my mother ate a slice the next day for breakfast. Calling up to me from our family room, she proclaimed it the "best apple pie she'd ever eaten." My husband, who's not a pie eater, decided that then he had to try it. With a sheepish grin, he described it as "tough" (not a derogatory descriptor for the crust, but instead a very high compliment indeed).

At this point, I figured I better write down the recipe before it was lost to the ether. On a lark, or so I thought, I consulted my son.

"How many apples?" I inquired.

"Two" he responded.

His response confirmed my suspicion as to his value as a recipe writer.

My mom then suggested "5," to which Thor corrected:

"No, grandma, there were 2 apples and 2 pears."

A ha! The secret ingredient to my wildly successful apple pie was the two overripe Bartlett pears that I added as a last minute replacement. Tasting it again, sure enough, the silky mush that enveloped the softened apple slices were pears.

Little Locathor saves the day, or at least the apple pie.

Apple Pie with a Cinnamon Crumb Crust

1 recipe pate brisee
2 pears, peeled, cored, and sliced
3 large apples, peeled, cored, and sliced
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2/3 cup granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon each of cinnamon, nutmeg
pinch of cloves
grated rind and juice of 1 lemon
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup packed brown sugar
1 stick cold all-purpose butter, cut into pieces
1 pinch cinnamon

Preheat the oven to 350 F. Roll out the pie crust and crimp the edges. Poke with a pork several times. Lay a piece of aluminum foil on top and weight it down with pie weights or dried beans. Bake for 10 minutes. Remove the foil and weights and bake for another 10 minutes. Let cool completely.

While the crust baking, mix the apples, pears, flour, sugar, spices, lemon juice, and rind in medium bowl.

Stir together the flour, brown sugar and cinnamon in a small bowl. Use your fingers to cut in the butter until the mixture is crumbly. Fill the crust with the apple-pear mixture. Sprinkle the crumbs over the top and bake on top of a sheet pan for 50 minutes to an hour or until the crumb topping is slightly browned.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

You Gotta Have Faith: CLOCC'S 1st Ever Skillet Minister Cook-Off

In the spring, I attended the Building a Healthier Chicago conference organized by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. One of the ranking officers talked about the obesity crisis and his suggested approach to it. He proposed a multi front attack: Get em where they work, live, learn, and pray. I've worked in plenty of schools, given classes to people in their homes and occasionally their offices, but worship homes were a new frontier to me and to Purple Asparagus.

It's not surprising that I wouldn't have thought of it. While both my husband and I spent many a sabbath morning at Sunday school, religion has fallen a bit to the wayside for me and my family. I'm not proud to admit that weekend chores and the occasional opportunity to sleep late has interfered with attendance at our church. Nevertheless, both my husband and I have vivid memories from childhood of the strong community created within our individual congregations so I understand the powerful influence that churches can have on their parishioners.

The Building a Healthier Chicago conference planted a seed in my mind, but given my weak religious roots, I had no soil in which to plant it. Perhaps it was simply serendipity or something more directed in its unseen influence, but only a months after the conference, the bed revealed itself.

CLOCC (the Consortium to Lower Obesity in Chicago Children)is a nationally recognized consortium that brings together hundreds of diverse organizations and individuals to confront childhood obesity in Chicago. With big thinkers on their board and staff, they'd already concluded that engaging the faith community was a critical piece of the puzzle of public health. James Kenady, an ordained minister on staff at CLOCC, called me mid summer to explore a cooking component for their first ever FAITH Summit. He wanted to find a way to creatively engage the faith leaders around the issue of healthy cooking.

A few years ago, I attended the International Association of Culinary Professionals conference in New Orleans during which the Kids in the Kitchen section organized an amazing cooking competition. Only a few years after the devastation of Katrina, Sheila Crye, the head of the section recognized that among the precious possessions lost, family recipes were at the top of the list. Sheila, with the help of other section members, including Williams-Sonoma's Laura Martin Bacon, created a contest that combined writing and recipes to stir a powerful stew of family cuisine. The children connected with family members, many of whom had been displaced from the Crescent City, to resurrect a favorite recipe and then submit it with a story. The event was heart wrenching and heartwarming all at once. The event deeply resonated with me.

With this recollection, I suggested what ultimately became the Skillet Minister Cook-Off. We partnered Chicago chefs with church cooks and asked them to make over a congregation potluck favorite into a healthy option. Three teams competed, creating three completely different yet delicious dishes. They presented their dish to 20 judges selected by raffle at the FAITH summit. Each team explained what changes they made and how they felt their congregation would react to their recipe.


Were this to become a regular addition to the FAITH conference, I would draw upon lessons learned and refine the competition, but it was, for a first time, terrific. The teams were enthusiastic and the mentors passionate. The dishes were reflective of the rich diversity of the Chicago church community. We had a Episcopalian church resident within a Puerto Rican neighborhood that transformed a traditional rice, pea and pork recipe by substituting turkey bacon and removing the MSG laced spice blend. Another church, whose oven was on the fritz, made a deconstructed lasagne with rice pasta, bison, and a "bechamel" forged with low fat ricotta and pureed white beans.
The winning recipe came from Obama's home church, Trinity United.


Not unlike the first couple, the three person team was made up of some serious overachievers, making not one but four dishes.


To level the playing field, we asked the judges to base their decision on only one of their dishes. Problem is, once the panel of 20 tasted their Crustless Sweet Potato Pie, I think it was all over.

All of the other recipes will be posted on the CLOCC website, but I do believe that this pie would be a delicious and healthier addition to any holiday table.

Special thanks go to Jill Houk, Lois Levine, and Mike Smith, our chef mentors.

Trinity United's Crustless Sweet Potato Pie
Serves 8-10

1 pound peeled sweet potato cut into 1-inch cubes
1 stick unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup condensed milk
3 ounces Splenda
1/4 cup egg white
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

Preheat the oven to 350 F. Place paper muffin cups into a muffin tin. Cover sweet potatoes with water in a large saucepan. Bring the water to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat to a brisk simmer and cook until tender, approximately 20 minutes. Drain and cool. Mix the cooked potato with butter, milk, splenda, and egg whites in an electric mixer until well blended. Add cinnamon and nutmeg. Pour into baking cups and bake for 45 minutes until just set. Let cool. Serve plain for a virtuous treat or with some whipped cream for a more devilish dessert.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Little Locathor Founds Red Carrots

Red Carrot

So much for family cooperation. The little locavore announced a few weeks ago his intention to found an organization called Red Carrot. Originally, he explained that he plans to host events that "bring families back to the table." Sound familiar?

Given his gift of gab, talent for sales, and general good fortune (just a few months back he won over $6,000 in a raffle), this revelation was occasion for concern. Especially since he's already had the opportunity to reveal his plans to the lovely Mrs. Tom Vilsack at Healthy Schools Campaign's annual fundraiser. It apparently made an impression as she shared the news at a meeting the next day.

Fortunately, he since has decided that Red Carrot will only assist Purple Asparagus in our educational programs. Whew. Lawyer-trained pappa locavore suggested that it become a wholly owned subsidiary, just after we amend our by-laws.

In the meantime, I thought I would share his lovely hand drawn logo.

Monday, November 15, 2010

From Trash to Table, Happy Accidents and Mint Chimichurri


A few weeks ago, my husband and I were in a popular Chicago cocktail bar populated with 20something hipsters when 1980's favorite, Duran Duran's Hungry Like the Wolf streamed through the speakers.

Days after that, I drove by a chic Lincoln Park boutique. In its windows, it's manequines wore asymetrical belts slung around their hips, just like the one I wore as a high schooler in 1986.

I discovered the last indication that the styles of the 1980's are back with a vengeance in the pages of the food section detailing pesto varieties.

Oh, snore.

Perhaps, I overdosed on pesto as future foodies during the Reagan/Poppy Bush era, but the comeback of the ground herb paste doesn't interest me. Not that I don't love the combination of sweet basil and pungent garlic bound together with olive oil. I do. But the recipe developer's recent tendency to transform every other leftover herb into (fill-in-blank) pesto leaves me cold.

I, instead, turn to another herb based condiment: chimichurri. Chimichurri, a traditional South American condiment is tart and refreshing whereas pesto is rich and velvety. Ususally made with parsley, chimichurri is a great way to transform leftover mint - an herb that I always seem to buy too much of.

Pairing it with a strip steak from our meat share, a delicious treat found in our last month's delivery, and another leftover, Spiced Sweet Potato Mash, Thor and I made a happy discovery. Sweet potatoes and mint are a delicious combination - one that I plan to repeat on Thanksgiving.

Mint Chimichurri

1 1/2 cups mint leaves
1 garlic clove
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
pinch red pepper flakes
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

Puree all of the ingredients in a food processor. Serve with grilled meats or sweet potatoes.

I'll be teaching a Trash to Table class on November 26 at the Notebaert Nature Museum, showing how to transform leftovers into delcious dishes. For more information, click here.
blog design by brooksiedesign