Friday, April 29, 2011

How to Be a Sustainable Cook in 5 Easy Pieces

Thanks so much to The Kid Can Cook for giving me the opportunity to guest post on her blog. Click here to learn 5 tips for cooking sustainably. While you're there, be sure to nose around as Michelle's got some terrific content over there.

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Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Beet-licious: Beet Hummus


If you dyed your eggs naturally last week (as I did), you may have a leftover beet (as I do). As a result, I thought I would recycle my beet hummus post, which puts that leftover beet to good use.

Even before my affiliation with The Local Beet, I was a big fan of the rosy root. Earthy, silky, and easily cooked, what's not to love about the beet? The versatile little orb, can become a salad, a soup, a pasta, heck even a cream puff, and now a spread.

While reading my Twitter account last week, one of my friends posted a 140 character recipe for beet hummus. In a blink of an eye it disappeared from my list and I forgot about it.

On Sunday, I uncovered a stray, sort of wrinkly, beet in my malfunctioning crisper drawer. Saving it from the creeping ice that's building up the back wall of my fridge, I zapped it in my Food Saver, which loudly sucked out the air of the bag, and tossed it into my brand new toy: the Sous Vide Supreme. A few hours later, it emerged from the water fork tender.

Now what to do with a single beet? I could make a salad, but we had no arugula or goat cheese for that matter. Soup would be silly and a side dish, well, sort of sad.

Ah ha. It returned to my mind: beet hummus. Since there was no way, I'd ever find the suggested ratio, I created my own and here it is, vibrant and earthy. While my son declared it too spicy for his taste, Mike and I devoured it slathered on slices of freshly baked bread.

Beet Hummus
6 servings

1 medium red beet cooked until tender and peeled
1/4 cup tahini
3 small garlic cloves
2 teaspoons lemon juice
kosher salt to taste
water to thin

Puree the beet, tahini, garlic, and lemon juice in the bowl of a food processor until smooth. Salt to taste. Add water to thin to the consistency of a spread or hummus.

Originally Posted in January 2010 and reprinted in the Chicago Sun Times.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Eggscellent: Natural Egg Dyeing Tomorrow on WGN


To check out WGN's segment, click here.

With the impending arrival of a fuzzy, long eared creature, everyone seems to be talking about eggs this week. The always amazing Christina LeBeau gives her rundown of eggsperiments on Spoonfed. Sara Kate Gillingham-Ryan just re-posted her how-to dye eggs naturally over the Kitchn (I love the suggestion of oiling the eggs to give them a high shine). Even bloggers of different faiths have gotten in on the game. Me, I'll be dying lots of eggs since my Little Locavores kid and I will be appearing on WGN tomorrow at 11am to demonstrate natural egg dying.

I also wanted to share with you this entry that I wrote several years ago for The Local Beet, which talks not only about how to dye eggs naturally, but also how to buy eggs that are not only good for the body but also for the planet since that's what Purple Asparagus is all about.

In pagan culture, the egg signified the rebirth of the earth during spring. Christians adopted this symbol for the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, allegedly having occurred in early spring. Eastern Christianity has created several myths regarding the connection between the egg and the Easter story, including a claim that Mary Magdalene brought eggs to share at the tomb of Jesus, which turned bright red when she saw that Christ had risen.

With all of these associations with life and the earth, it only makes sense that the eggs that we dye for our baskets, egg hunts and rolls be good for the earth and respect life. To do this, we need to be educated consumers and understand the labeling on the cartons.

Sustainable Eggs

Three separate certifying systems have been created by egg producers.

Certified Organic: This is the only certification that is regulated by the government. To earn it, a farmer must pass an inspection showing that the eggs came from hens that eat an antibiotic-free, 100% organic diet, and are allowed access to the outdoors and sunlight. What it does not require is a certain barn or shed size or limit on the amount chickens housed inside such facilities. It also does not require that the chickens spend any time outdoors and specifically allows a farmer to temporarily confine his hens for a variety of reasons, with no definition of the term "temporarily." It does, however, require certain humane limitations including that a bird must be anesthetized prior to de-beaking, a common practice in egg farming.

Certified Humane: This certification is regulated by Humane Farm Animal Care and is concerned less with what the birds eat than with how they are treated. Hens must eat a "wholesome" and "nutritious" diet, they may only receive antibiotics in the case of disease. The certification requires that the hens have "sufficient space, shelter and gentle handling to limit stress." In Illinois, Phil's Fresh Eggs has been named Certified Humane under this system. (They're also white and great for taking on dye). To find other producers, visit Humane Farm Animal Care's website. Organic Valley may not be "Certified Humane," on its website, it states its promise to the consumer that its eggs have been:
"Produced on family farms in harmony with nature without antibiotics, synthetic hormones or pesticides. Our hens are raised humanely and given certified organic feed—never any animal by-products—and range freely outdoors."

A note on hormones: a hormone-free claim is a bit of a non-sequitur given that hormones are never given to hens being grown for laying eggs or during the egg-laying period unless sick.

The United Egg Producers Certification: This is quite a dodgy "certification." According to Marion Nestle, the certification "merely attests that a company gives food and water to its caged hens." Unsurprisingly, a large majority of industrial egg producers have received this certification. The website is chock full of double speak. On the home page, we see a wholesome young family on their bucolic farm. There is a large section called Myth v. Fact. My favorite myth v. fact is the first:

Myth: Farmers only care about profit.
Fact: U.S. egg farmers are committed to the humane and ethical treatment of animals. Many of the farms are family-owned and operated.

While I'm sure that majority of family farmers treat their hens humanely, having recently watched HBO's "Death on a Family Farm," family-owned and operated can not necessarily be equated with humane treatment.

A Note on De-beaking: It's important to note that none of the certifications prohibit de-beaking, though the Certified Organic and Humane standards do require that the birds be anaesthetized during the procedure. Birds are de-beaked to prevent the aggressive behavior that is almost inevitable in close quarters. In the "The Ethics of What We Eat," Peter Singer identifies a handful of farmers who do not de-beak their birds. I have emailed several of the egg producers who sell locally at our farmers market to find out their practices and will report back with what I learn.

Sustainable Egg Dyeing

Ever since my son was born 5 years ago, we've coloring our eggs naturally. What we've done is to use the by-products of our home cooking that would otherwise be destined for the garbage or the compost bin. For example, yellow onion skins create a lovely beige shade, red, a purplish one. I'll blanch spinach, a traditional menu item on Maundy Thursday, for green. Boil some beets for red. Leftover coffee stains not your teeth for brown. The only virgin ingredients that I use are dried spices - really, how many of you are going to use up that entire jar or turmeric? I also have a huge jar of tomato powder that is past its prime (a donation from the very generous Spice House for a Purple Asparagus project) that when combined with vinegar turns up orange. When using spices, boil water to fill a bowl just large enough to hold an egg or two and add a tablespoon or more or the desired spice with a bit of vinegar. But my all time favorite natural egg dye? Red wine. Not only does it color the egg, but it gives it a sparkly sheen - I've always assumed that it's the sulfites. The best part? When your egg is done, it's cocktail time.

1 beet, quartered
cold water to cover
1 teaspoon white vinegar

Cover the beet with cold water in a small pot and bring to a boil. Simmer until tender. Pour off 3/4 cup of beet liquid into a small cup. Mix with vinegar. Reserve the beet for another purpose. Soak eggs for 15 minutes to 1/2 hour.

3/4 cup water
1 tablespoon turmeric
1 teaspoon white vinegar

Bring the water to a boil. Whisk in turmeric and white vinegar. Let the liquid cool. Soak eggs for 15 minutes to 1/2 hour.

1/2 cup blueberry juice poured off from a bag of frozen blueberries, thawed
1/4 cup water
1 teaspoon white vinegar

Heat the blueberry juice and water to boiling. Add vinegar. Let the liquid cool. Soak eggs for 15 minutes to 1/2 hour.

1 cup red wine

This is my favorite egg dye. Soak eggs for a few hours in the refrigerator. They will become a mottled, sparkly purple. The wine can be reserved for cooking

This is a new color suggested by my friends over at Kiwi Magazine.

3/4 cup water
2 to 3 chlorophyll caplets (found in natural food stores)
1 teaspoon vinegar

Bring the water to a boil. Break open the caplets and pour the content and stir. Let the liquid cool. Soak eggs for 1/2 hour or longer.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Chefs Move to Schools Chicago

Video of Chefs Move to Schools Chicago in McAuliffe Elemenary School by WCIU.

A little less than a year ago, Michelle Obama created the Chefs Move to Schools. Launched on the White House lawn, the program pairs individual chefs and schools with the intent that these chefs will help improve the state of the school’s food and nutrition education. After I attended the launch with 700 plus other chefs, my organization, Purple Asparagus, partnered with Healthy Schools Campaign to organize the largest single coordinated response to Mrs. Obama’s call to action. On a single October morning, approximately 75 chefs visited Chicago Public Schools armed with bagfuls of vegetables and a curriculum that I wrote entitled “Little Pea’s Dessert.”

Little Pea, a children’s book by Amy Krouse Rosenthal, is a story of a happy little pea. He loves going to school, playing with his friends, and when his dad, Papa Pea, comes home and flings him high in the air from a spoon. But there is one thing that Little Pea does not like and that’s his dinner. Every night, Little Pea has to eat candy for dinner. If he eats three bites of his dinner, he can have dessert: spinach!

After reading Little Pea, We asked each of the chefs to organize a vegetable tasting. See kids don’t need much encouragement to eat sweet things, so a fruit smoothie or a fruit, yogurt and granola cup may seem like good options for cooking with kids, they don’t take much effort to introduce. We asked the chefs to challenge themselves and the kids. Some prepared a salad with their class; one even staged a scene from Little Pea using vegetables! Being in the midst of harvest season, I went straight up veggie tasting bringing the freshest and best produce from my favorite farmers’ market, Green City Market. One class of third graders and one of kindergarteners learned about and tasted veggies such as cucumbers and broccoflower.

Our second Chicago Chefs Move to Schools day will take place on April 5. Given that the farmers’ markets will have far less available for purchase, I’m selecting a smaller assortment of vegetables and helping each of the kids make a yogurt sauce, which can be used as either a dip or a dressing. This is a pretty simple “cooking” project that can be done in the classroom by chefs and teachers alike and gets kids excited about trying new vegetables.

• Give each kid 2 sturdy plates, a sturdy plastic knife, a small bowl, and a fork (we have reusable kid size utensils for this purpose)
• Introduce vegetables one by one, explaining how each is grown, what nutrients they contain and providing some fun facts about each (these facts can be found in on the Internet, just type in the name of the veggie and “fun facts”)
• Give each child a piece of the vegetable and, if appropriate, ask them to cut it into smaller pieces on one of the plates
• Ask them to try a bite and reserve the remainder of their vegetables on the second plate until they’ve made their dip/dressing
• Once the veggie tasting is done, scoop 2 tablespoons of plain low fat yogurt into each bowl. Add ½ teaspoon each of finely chopped green onion and canola oil mayonnaise
• Hand each child a small leaf each of parsley and basil. Ask them to tear the leaves into small pieces and add to the yogurt bowl
• Pass around a small bowl of kosher salt and ask each child to take a very small “kid-sized” pinch to add to their bowl
• Ask each child to stir the dip/dressing with their fork or a carrot stick
• Enjoy as a dip or dressing for the reserved veggies

This entry was originally posted on Kiwilog.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Crowd Sourcing Wonderful Watermelon Recipes

Watermelon pasta

Watermelon? you say.

Yes, I know, watermelon are months away from our farm stands and markets. But during last year's season, I had a lot of it. This may sound like an embarrassment of riches to you (and to me during these cool days of early Spring), however, in September, I was doing whatever I could to avoid throwing away the weekly supply of mottled green orbs I found in my CSA box. Procrastinator that I am, I pureed and froze cups and cups of the stuff.

As I sorted recently through my freezer to make room for the new growing season, I came across my six mason jars filled with coral colored liquid. Now, what to do with it? I brought my question to the crowd.

On Twitter, I relayed my dilemma. I explained that we don't eat too many desserts, nor do we drink cocktails often. Therefore, sorbet and margarita were off the table.

Two suggestions stood out. From a grower and seller of many watermelon came the idea of jelly. The second was a pasta sauce.

In two days, I've depleted my supply and crowd sourced two new magnificent recipes.

Cappelini with Watermelon, Prosciutto and Goat Cheese
Serves 2

2 cups pureed and strained watermelon puree
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
3 green onions, whites finely chopped, 1 inch of the greens finely sliced
2 tablespoons heavy cream
freshly ground pepper and kosher salt to taste
3 slices prosciutto, thinly sliced
1 ounce goat cheese
1/3 cup pea greens
1/4 pound cappelini

Pour the puree into a small saucepan and bring to a boil. Reduce the liquid to about 1/3 cup. Strain the reduction into a small bowl. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Once boiling, add the cappelini to the pot and cook according to the package. Heat the butter in a small saucepan over medium heat. Add the whites of the onions and cook until softened. Whisk in the flour and cook for about a minute. Whisk in the reduced watermelon juice until the sauce seems slightly viscous and thickened. Stir in the cream and season with salt and pepper. Drain the pasta, add the prosciutto and coating all of the strands of the pasta with the sauce. Scoop the sauced pasta onto plates or shallow bowls. Sprinkle on the goat cheese, scallion greens and pea greens. Serve immediately.

watermelon jelly

Watermelon-Basil Jelly

2 cups watermelon puree
1 3/4 cup granulated sugar
1 package liquid pectin
3 basil stems

Whisk the first three ingredients in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the basil stems. Turn the heat to medium high and bring the watermelon to a boil. Cook until the mixture is thickened and reaches 200 F. Remove the basil stems and pour the jelly into hot sterilized jars. Cool to room temperature and store in a dark place until ready to use.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Green Eggs and Ham at Green City Market


While spring technically begins in March, it doesn't really spring forth, at least in the Midwest, until April. April is also, as most of you know, Earth Month. Because of what we do at Purple Asparagus, our date book is always full in April with cooking demonstrations, classes and various festivals. On Saturday, we celebrated spring's cautious bounty at Green City Market by making Green Eggs and Ham, a perfect recipe to herald the earth's rebirth.

For centuries, eggs have been a symbol of spring and new life. Combining them with the freshest and most delicate of greens seems only natural. The ham's just a bonus. Readers will recognize this recipe as a lightened up version of deviled eggs thanks to a new trick that Monica Bhide created for Kiwi Magazine. All of the ingredients were locally sourced or grown. Fun to make, fun to eat, the recipe was a big hit among our young Sprouts.

GCM Green Eggs
Sprout Elliot who made several Green Eggs and Ham, but did not eat them, because he's a budding vegetarian.

Green Eggs and Ham
Makes 1, increase accordingly

1 hard boiled egg, cut in half
2 teaspoons Greek yogurt or plain yogurt strained through a fine sieve
1/4 teaspoon mustard
1-2 teaspoons green stuff (chopped basil, parsley, chives, green onions, mint, etc.)
pinch salt
2 thin slices of prosciutto (I love Iowa's La Quercia)

Press the egg yolk through a fine sieve. This will loose the egg yolk making it easier to combine it with the other ingredients. Combine the egg yolk with the yogurt, mustard, green stuff and salt. Scoop the mix onto the egg white halves. Wrap each with prosciutto. Enjoy!

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Clean Start with Terry Walters

A little over a month ago, I had the pleasure to meet Terry Walters, best-selling author of Clean Food and the newly published Clean Start. In town on her book tour, we chatted after a presentation she gave at Chicago's The Chopping Block.

Walters is a warm and engaging speaker. She trained at The Institute of Integrative Nutrition and serves on the Board of Directors for Urban Oaks Organic Farm. Her new book, which she describes, as a prequel to Clean Food, is beautifully photographed and full of delicious looking and unique recipes.

While Walters refused to describe herself as a vegan, her recipes use no animal products. She felt that people needed more information about how to cook non-meat protein and vegetables. In her own life, she explained that she eats for balance, focusing on the best quality fruits and vegetables.

Walters' recipes are also gluten free. While she doesn't have celiac's disease, she explained that she simply feels better when she avoids gluten. She relayed a theory passed onto her by a California women about the recent increase in gluten intolerance. Before combines were widely used, threshing could take a few days and so it would get wet and then dry over the course of that time. Walter's adopted theory is that the wheat was slightly fermented during their curing process. She finds support for this theory in the fact that she can easily digest breads made from natural yeast.

My favorite recipes in Walter's book thus far are the baked goods. I love that she subsitutes high-protein flour for whole wheat, which she finds to be bland. A parent can feel downright virtuous about serving these "nturitional sweets." Her Banana-Date Cake was devoured by everyone in my house. With leftovers of many of the recipe's ingredients, I'll certainly make it again.

You can catch up with Terry at her blog Eat Clean Live Well.

While I received my copy of Clean Start as a gift from the publisher, the views expressed in this post are solely my own.

Banana Date Cake

Reprinted by permission from Clean Start by Terry Walters, Sterling Epicure, 2010.

10 dried dates, pitted
2 ripe bananas
1⁄3 cup maple syrup
1⁄4 cup virgin coconut oil, melted
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 cup chickpea flour
1 cup almond meal
1⁄4 cup tapioca flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1⁄2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1⁄2 teaspoon sea salt

Preheat oven to 350°F and lightly grease 8 x 8-inch baking dish.

Place dates in large bowl and cover with boiling water to soften. Drain well, add bananas and mash both together so that chunks remain. Add maple syrup, melted oil, lemon juice and vanilla and whisk to combine.

In separate bowl, whisk together all dry ingredients. Add to bowl with banana mixture and fold gently to combine, making sure not to overmix. Pour into prepared baking dish and bake for 30 minutes or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Remove from oven, place on rack and cool completely before slicing or removing from dish.

MAKES 1 cake

VARIATION Drizzle melted chocolate over the top for an extra-special presentation.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Meatless Monday: Potato, Spinach and Goat Cheese Pie


Where does inspiration for a recipe arise? For me, there are many sources. It could be a client's request, the theme of a school program, or a visit to the farmers' market. However, I have to admit that some of the most original recipes I've written have come from the simple desire to avoid the garbage can.

My last post was written in Florida during a week long vacation well deserved by both my husband and me. If you're anything like me, the day before a trip is spent setting timers, finishing laundry, and clearing out the fridge and pantry of perishables.

In between freezing extra beans from our March legume curriculum and our last meal of macaroni and cheese (made with ALL of the odd cheese bits in our refrigerator's meat keeper), I had to figure out what to do with a pound of greening potatoes.

I figured that they would keep better mashed than whole so I boiled them until tender, smashed them with the last of my sour cream and a bit of salt. Freezing them flat in a Ziplock bag, I had visions of croquettes. Yet, on the flight down to the Sunshine state, I thought of another use. I couldn't wait to put it to the test.

Tonight, on Meatless Monday, I turned my mashed potatoes into a pie crust, a delicious crusty vehicle to hold a spinach, goat cheese and caramelized onion custard.


Potato, Spinach and Goat Cheese Pie
Serves 3-4

1 pound Yukon gold potatoes
1/4 cup sour cream
salt to taste

1/4 stick unsalted butter
2 medium onions, thinly sliced
3 large eggs
heavy cream
8 ounces frozen spinach, cooked
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
salt and pepper to taste
2 ounces fresh goat cheese

Peel and quarter potatoes. Cover with cold salted water. Bring to a boil and cook until tender. Drain and mash with sour cream and salt to taste. Cool and freeze.

Defrost potatoes and drain any liquid that has wept from the potatoes. Preheat the oven to 425 F. Grease a pie plate. Press in the potatoes evenly in the bottom and up the sides. Bake for 30-40 minutes or until lightly golden in the center and browned at the edges. Cool.

While the potato crust is baking, melt the butter in a large skillet over medium-low heat. Cook the onions until caramelized about 30 minutes. Cool slightly.

Break the eggs in a measuring cup. Add heavy cream to the eggs so that the mixture measures 1 and 1/2 cups. Pour the eggs and cream into a medium bowl. Whisk with nutmeg, salt, pepper, and spinach. Fold in onions and goat cheese gently. Pour into the potato crust and bake until the pie is almost completely set approximately 20 to 25 minutes. Serve warm or at room temperature.
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