In Chicago, we eagerly await that first outdoor farmers market as the unofficial start of spring. While other parts of the country have been sunny and bright for weeks, even months, we’re often still plagued with bouts of late season chills, overnight frosts and torrential downpours. That first market is often rainy and generally not the beautiful sunny day of our dreams. BUT it does serve as a harbinger of better things to come, of berries and stone fruits, of tomatoes and peppers, of things other than the root vegetables and onions that have sustained us through another gray, dreary winter. And we know that those first few markets will contain the beautiful stalks of green and purple asparagus and maybe other highly seasonal finds like ramps and green garlic. And we know that close on their heels will follow rhubarb and then their fat red partners in crime, strawberries, for a fleeting but delicious few weeks. And that folks, is what keeps our hopes alive.
Posted in appetizers/first courses, farmers markets, side dishes, vegetables | Tagged asparagus with stilton, red onion marmalade, roasted asparagus, roasted asparagus with stilton butter and red onion marmalade, stilon cheese sauce | 2 Comments »
Last fall, I took part in a fantastic weekend adventure and it all centered on meat. Butchery to be specific, both pork and beef, with side forays into charcuterie, sausage making, bacon smoking, a lot of cooking, more eating and wonderful camaraderie. It was part summer camp, part serious food skills and part female empowerment. My French friend Kate (a bit of a misnomer as she’s actually an American living in France) concepted the idea of a Grrls Meat Camp where woman in the butchery field, culinary world and farming realms could gather, discuss their challenges and begin to build a support network in a field where woman are few and far between. Which is how 17 of us found our way to a little lodge at a YMCA camp in northern Illinois.
Posted in adventures/field trips, cakes, chocolate | Tagged butchery retreats, chocolate cake, chocolate lard bourbon cake, Grrls Meat Camp, lard cake, recipes with lard, sour cream ganache | 2 Comments »
Over the last few years, I’ve become a big lard fan. All hail pig fat! It makes a fantastic pie crust, a delectable biscuit and a surprisingly tender cake. I was at a pig butchery demo not long ago with Brian Polcyn and Michael Ruhlman and the subject of lard arose. In the middle his demo, Chef Polcyn held up a large piece of pure white fat, the leaf lard surrounding the kidneys, and said something to the effect of “if only pastry chefs understood the power of lard.” Ahem. I, of course, spoke up in my brethern’s defense. Oh buddy, we are well aware. Little did he know at the time that I had 7+ pounds of unrendered leaf lard back home in my freezer.
Sometimes you just want something quick and easy for dinner. No fuss, no muss. It’s much better if someone else makes it for you but that’s not always an option, especially if you live alone or the rest of your family is asleep on the couch. While working in Southwest France for my friend Kate last summer, I often spent the day cooking, working around the property and running errands. By dinnertime, we were all hungry, dirty, tired and pretty much mentally over being in the kitchen. It didn’t take Kate and her trusty Guy Friday, Felix, long to introduce me to the perfect solution for these situations: scallion pancakes.
Last year, coincidentally, Cinco de Mayo fell on the same day as the Kentucky Derby making for a very fine fiesta. My friend Chris threw a “Cinco de Derby” party and I spent a great deal of time at the dollar store conceptualizing the perfect party hat. Onto a big straw chapeau that looked a little too Huck Finn to start, went red, white and green ribbons, a bouquets worth of fake red and white flowers and to really make it special, I glued on a big plastic horse because nothing says “derby” like a large equine sculpture on the side of your head. It was heavy and lopsided due to that horse but I looked rather fantastic. Since the 2013 Kentucky Derby is Saturday May 4th and Cinco de Mayo is Sunday May 5th I think my hat may come out of retirement. It will perfectly compliment a big melted mass of cheese.
Posted in appetizers/first courses, holidays | Tagged melted cheese appetizer, melted mexican cheese, Mexican cheese appetizer, queso fundito, queso fundito con chorizo, queso fundito con poblano rajas | 3 Comments »
My mother and I spend a great deal of time planning our holiday meals. Christmas Eve is always a big seafood extravaganza, our own version of the Italian “Feast of the Seven Fishes” and though much of the menu stays the same, we’re open to new ideas. Throughout the year we keep an eye out for something that might work into the menu. If something piques our interest, we’ll make a little mental note and have lengthy discussions. Oysters on the half shell, steamed clams and king crab legs with lots of lemon and garlic butter are fixed, no question. But we’ve also tried shrimp cocktail, steamed mussels, BBQ shrimp, a horrendously failed attempt at grilled calamari, stuffed mussels and a cold seafood salad at one time or another. While all were good, except that calamari which I refused to serve, neither of us was in love with any of them. So I was on the lookout.
There’s been a vegan/raw chocolate mousse recipe making the rounds that derives its creaminess not from dairy or whipped egg whites but from avocados. Right. I’ve never made nor tasted it but have always looked upon it with a half-cocked eye, dubious of the flavor. I am steeped in tradition and a proper mousse contains melted chocolate enriched with yolks, whipped egg whites and full fat cream. One of my favorite Parisian meals was capped by a towering bowl of chocolate mousse, doled out by an aproned waiter in enormous spoonfuls. I can guarantee there was no avocado in that mousse. But I’ve come around on my thinking having since made an avocado based popsicle. They’re rather delicious and quite surprising.