Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Carnitas Y Dos Brewers

Last Wednesday night, I had the honor of meeting two lovely gents, determined to make an impact on Chicago's microbrewery scene.  I wrote all about their project, and how you can help at Gapers Block but I wanted to share with you all some of the more personal touches of the evening...

The truth of the story is, I wanted to hear their story and the guys (Beejay and Gerrit) wanted me to taste some of their brew, but where could we do such a thing in a public place?  Last I checked, restaurants and bars don't look to favorably on you pulling out an unmarked bottle from your backpack and sipping on free suds.  What's a girl to do?  We could have crashed a BYOB but I was a bit concerned the guys wouldn't have enough space to showcase their wears.  I settled on option #2.  How better to make new fast friends than to open up your own home?

The guys arrived at 6:30 at my place, with chilled beer in hand (mostly bombers), and hungry stomachs in tow.  I provided dinner and questions and brought a long 2 interested party guests.  1, a roommate (Cap'n) who is by default one of my favorite dinner party attendees.  2, my lovely resident homebrewer (Trodimon), who's experimentation has been a fun addition to my culinary adventures this year.  (Ladies, if you want a gift that keeps on giving, give your boyfriend a brewer's set for Christmas-- score!)

The great thing about interested parties is that they, well, make the conversation more interesting.  Cap'n had some insightful inquiries about how the business would take off and right on queue Trodimon turned into a super beer geek.  "But where can I find some of those New Zealand hops?" and towards the end of the night, "yeah maybe we could brew a beer together..."

As it happens, we were all utterly charmed.  Gerrit and Beejay both have an incredible head on their shoulders, and a creative vision for brewing, something that doesn't pair so naturally, I think.  Since my piece in Gapers Block, they have 188 more backers, and about $1000 more dollars since before my article was published.  My fingers are crossed for these guys-- 10 more days and $1,873 to go.  Track there progress and donate yourself here, if you'd be interested.  Every bit counts!

I know, I know.  The question on all your minds is, what does one serve to guys that are into deep flavor profiles in sudsy concoctions?

Carnitas modified from last year's Slow Cooking edition of Bon Appetit
Bur's boneless pork shoulder
2 t salt
2 t ground black bpepper
2 t oregano
1 cinnamon stick
1 t Mexican chili powder
1/2 t cumin
1 large onion, cut into wedges
1 can of cheap lager

Remove any excess fat from your pork shoulder and place it in a large slow cooker insert.  Rub with all your spices.  Place onion wedges atop meat.  Pour your beer over the whole deal.  Turn on low and let it simmer for 10 hours.  Go to work, come back to a delightful smelling house.  Then mix up:

2 small dice avocados
1/2 a bunch of green onions
1 cup of frozen corn
1/4 cup of finely chopped cilantro
salt and pepper to taste

When you're ready, pull your shoulder out of the slow cooker and put on an edged cutting board (otherwise your juices will go everywhere).  It should be falling apart, but use two forks to pull apart the strands.  Discard onion pieces.

Serve Carnitas meat in a warmed bowl with corn tortillas, shredded monterey jack and guacamole.
 (confession, this photo is actually from when I attempted the original recipe last January.  My alterations made these carnitas so delightful, we snorted them down before a pic could be snapped.)

Monday, December 13, 2010

Meadow Haven Farm: a full meatwagon

I'm almost at the end of my winter share CSA, and realizing that Slow Cooker season is right at my heels.  And what do I need?  Meat.  Lots and lots and lots of meat
The other day, Time Out ran an incredible story about Restauranteur Daniel Rosenthal.  He saw Food, Inc two years ago and now, because of how heavily it impacted him, he's leading a charge to have all of Chicago's burgers come from grass fed beef.  His Loop joint Poag Mahone's, ranked by GQ in "top 20 burgers you must eat before you die" is serving only grass fed beef.  “Watching that documentary made me realize that I not only was participating in, but--through my restaurants-- helping to perpetuate a system that was not only not sustainable but destructive to the health of my clients and my community.  And it was really a wake-up call to me to try to figure out how I, in the restaurant business, could make an impact."
How perfectly stated?! I'm not a restaurant but I'll own up to my own impact as well.  So here I am, the slow cooker is ready, I'm veggied out from the fall and long over due for a car-full of meat.  Good meat.  Why a car-full?  Because farmers can sell quarters, halves or full hogs and cows to individual buyers.  Rather than trek to the farmers market ever week and buy one piece of meat at a time, I can purchase the whole hog, get an unbelievably discounted price for organic, free range meat, and shake hands with the guy who raised the hogs, cows, turkeys, you name it.  Talk about a positive impact.

Mid-September, I called up JeremyAgain.  This time I wanted one of his birds. And pig. And cow.  I ordered a turkey, half of a hog and a quarter of a cow.  The turkey, I picked up on Wednesday for Thanksgiving, hauled all 26 pounds of fresh bird up to Minneapolis and feasted on it with 12 friends and family for the next 5 days.  It was Benny expensive but decidedly the freshest, cleanest, most delicious turkey I've ever had.  It's only once a year and I think it was worth every dollar.
Wilbur went to the "processor" (a gentile way to say butcher) two weeks ago and has been chopped up every which way for me to eat.  The Wil part is going to my boss, Paul.  He bought a deep freeze freezer and has been researching meat options for a couple months.  We decided that between the two of us, we could take down that much meat.  Bur is coming home with me.  I asked Jeremy for all the weird bits too: tongue, heart, liver to experiment with (see picture above).  I solemnly swear to report back how pig heart is best cooked. 
Bessie, our quarter cow, is arriving sometime in January.  Again, Paul will get Bess and I'll get Essie. Honestly, all "positive impacts" aside, meat from Meadow Haven is good.  Really really really good. If you want to be in on the next round, let me know.  There are plenty more cows in the pasture, pigs in the pen, fish in the sea.
Bur's Italian Sausage made it to the "number 1 thing I must try immediately upon arrival."  I opened a can of some homemade tomato sauce that D and I canned over the summer, added a few extra tomatoes, a little wine from a forlorn, half-drunk bottle, and a pound of Italian sausage. Delicious.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Suckered in by a viking

This man got me into some serious trouble last night.  Here he is, innocently offering me a toasty beverage.  He looks nice right?  Kind of snuggly and warm and like you just want to hug him?

Skandis united at the Swedish American Museum last night for the official (early) unveiling of Simon's glögg.  You'll remember, the Scandinavian part of me is on high alert during this time of year and a chance to get at Simon's glögg early is the best early Christmas present I could imagine.  Said viking had made the traditional glögg from red wine, vodka, spices, raisins and blanched almonds and also a delightful white glögg, supposedly the new thing in Sweden.  They've been trying to push it for 5 years or so but Swedes are serious creatures of habit and haven't quite taken to it.  The Swedish-Americans at SAM last night, loved it though.

Across the room from the glögg temptation awaited.  Silent auction items from the Chamber of Commerce of Andersonville.  And there it sat.  The most beautiful little stock pot I've ever seen.  See??
Strawberry oven mitts, wooden spoon, a tea towel, steel tongs, a spatula, free cooking class coupon, and the most darling teal Le Creuset ever.  How could a girl say no?  I innocently put my name down as the first bidder, I'm just helping the auction get off to a good start. 
And now, here it sits. In my kitchen. Damn viking.  Truth be told, I did get it for 1/2 the true value so I owe a big thanks to the viking and Wooden Spoon.

Tonight to celebrate my newest kitchen addition, I made "what's left of my CSA box" ratatouille, and am currently nibbling away at the savory pot, and watching Pixar's version of the story.  I had forgotten, this dish is just incredible.  Throw some garlic, onions, peppers, tomatoes, brussel sprouts, red wine and herbes de provence in a pot and voila!  I let my stew for 2 hours and am guessing that it will be even better tomorrow, after the flavors settle in.
So Merry Christmas everybody.  Hope Santa is good to you this year, because his Nordic twin was awfully nice to me!!

Friday, October 22, 2010

Another Cat, Another Bag

Welp here we go again, it's high time I tell you all a little something ELSE that I've found to fill some spare time.

Some of you may know but I've begun writing for a delightful online publication:

A bit of background from our editor in chief: "There are two types of websites that serve important functions in a news ecosystem: authorities and hubs. Authorities are sites that lots of sites link to, and hubs are sites that link out to a lot of places. We are listed as one of the top authorities in Chicago -- the only other news organization in the top five is ChicagoTribune.com. Even better, we are by far the largest hub in Chicago's online news ecosystem!  That's not all. Another way to characterize websites is based on how interconnected they are. We are the the number one "switchboard" site, connecting otherwise un-connected communities to each other."
Essentially Gapers Block writes it's own news stories, and also sources the stories of other publications centralizing the most important, intriguing and sometimes hysterical stories to one website.  Side note: if reading just one more website will put you over the edge, they have an ingenious "Party line" sent out at the end of every week highlighting the main events for the upcoming weekend and the main stories from the week before.  It's an easy catchup to know what's buzzing in the city.

So, you're thinking to yourself, Jo, what are YOU doing on Gapers Block?  Well they were looking for new contributors to their Drive Thru section which covers food trends, dining and all things culinary in Chicago.  And I thought to myself, Jo, you spend so much time following all this news and have become a person friends go to for dining suggestions, why not be productive and do the same thing for a more general audience?!
I've written about one or two new openings, FRESH, chef competitions, Sarah's incredible project, a locavore grocer BBQ, beer school, food art, my CSA. My most recent post was a glowing review of Mia Francesca's latest casual, locally sourced sister.  Let me tell you-- the place is absolutely delicious, easy and approachable.  Check it out.

Please recommend new places I should review, parties that I should know about, or any general foodie info.  The most valuable thing I've learned on Gapers Block is that it takes a whole broad network of people to stay current and on top of this great city, but I need a lot of help from you all!!  Thanks for being a part of the adventure.Davanti Enoteca on Urbanspoon

Friday, October 8, 2010

Culinary School 2: Stocks, Soups & Sauces

Following up where we left off, May and June whisked me into Stocks Soups and Sauces, building on the fundamentals of cutting, dicing and prepping.  See here's the issue:  if you want to eat more sustainably, a bit part of that means buying whole animals (ie. a whole chicken rather than just the oh-so-coveted-breast meat) but then what to do with the rest of the bird?!  Once you remove all the meat from your animal, you still are left with about 2 pounds of solid carcass and what better to make than stocks.  Here are the basics.  Every sauce must begin with a stock and every stock begins with mirepoix and bones.  Mirepoix is a 50%-25%-25% mix of onions-carrots and celery, in that order.  To make white stock, you use duck or chicken bones that have not been roasted.  To make brown stock, you can use duck or beef bones that have been roasted until browned.  This is what gives the stock the nice caramel color.  Lastly you have fish stock, made with mirepoix and, duh, fish bones or shells from any shellfish (achoo!  I'm sadly allergic).
From all of these 3 stocks come the five mother sauces: Bechamel, Veloute, Tomato, Espagnole (Brown), and Hollandaise.  From these we make Mournay (in mac & cheese), Supreme (white sauce with mushrooms & cream ex on chicken), any tomato sauces, espagnole (for any steak sauce) and naturally hollandaise (Benedicts?!).  Needless to say: YUM.  Butter and cream flowed around the kitchen all class long. My favorite recipe was for Mornay sauce.  May I just warn you this sauce poured over noodles or blanched cauliflower or pretty much anything is deadly.  It's not for the faint of heart, or weak of will.
To be quite honest, I haven't used any of the skills learned from this class until two weeks ago.  It was a hot summer and soup was not on the menu.  But in the last week, I've made carrot and sweet potato soup with mole stock, broccoli cheddar soup from Paprikash stock and have more on the menu for next week.  Now that we're in full swing of fall roast up some veggies, throw them in a pot with some stock and voila, you have dinner.
My only word to the wise is this:  when you're pureeing soups, always use a towel on top of your blender or processor, because if the hot liquid comes spewing out of your ill placed lid, you burn your entire forearm.  Badly.  Lesson learned.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Iron Creek Farm: visiting my CSA farm

In Northern Indiana, the corn is standing 8 to 10 feet tall, dried out and yellow now by the summer sun and cooling autumnal temperatures.  The weeds are creeping back to find their old homes they knew last fall, as weary farmers' hands and backs allow their fields the rest they need around this time of the year.
Every Saturday morning, rain or shine, I walk over to my local farmers market to the same stall, and pick up a box of produce.  For those of you that are just newly getting into this whole "know your food, know your farmer" movement, this is a great first step.  I paid for my boxes in May, making a good trade for me and for the farmer.  I get a whole box of produce for much less than it would cost me if I went stand to stand on market day, and the farmer has money up front to buy seeds, tools and hands needed to do the work.
On a chilly but sunny Sunday afternoon, I drove out for a little visit to see the ground where my goods have sprung from and met Tamera and Patrick at  Iron Creek Farm.  We went for a tour pulled along by the tractor.
Picked pumpkins...
and opened a window into the world that's been producing my peppers, tomatoes and cucumbers for the last 5 months.
Their wood-furnace heated greenhouses have vines that produce fruit from May until December.  Tomato and pepper plants grow to be 30 feet tall and about 1.5 inches wide in diameter.  Once fruit is picked on the lower bit of the stem, leaves are removed and the plant is trained to grow up, leaving space below for air to move through the green house and circulate.
My red and butter lettuces are grown in hydroponics and take about 6 weeks to reach full maturity.
Tamera and Patrick made the decision to grow organically after thinking about the kind of environment they wanted to raise their kids in.  "Farms can be toxic," says Tamera, "and we didn't want to live in that kind of environment."  Laughing she says, "don't get me wrong, organic farming has its fair share of things we put on the fields. Chicken manure, fish emulsion, most of it smells pretty funny."  They started growing organically 4 years ago and are in the process to get some of their other land certified.  Land has to sit barren for three years to rid the soil of chemicals.   They acknowledge that it takes quite of bit of patience but say they haven't lost any yield in switching to organics.
It's exciting to be a farmer right now, Tamera says.  Her bright eyes sparkle when talking about people beginning to care about where their food comes from, and who grows it.  I asked her, "do you feel empowered just knowing that people like us care?  I mean, do you think about that ever when you're pulling weeds."  I smile.  She beams back, "you know, I haven't but next time I'm pulling weeds I'll think of you!!"
Next spring, or even this fall, I really encourage you guys to subscribe to a CSA.   Community Sustained Agriculture means you are face to face with your food, and directly supporting a local farm that isn't growing food in factories.  You are paying for quality and nourishment for yourself and your family. 
There is something transcendent in knowing face to face who is making your food.  I'm newly grateful for my lettuce and peppers and beets and leeks.  And while I'm cooking them tonight, I'll think about dirt on my hands and dried corn in the fields.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Coq au Vin a la Paprikash

Warning to those who are skiddish about such matters:  this post is about my hen which turned out to be a rooster which turned out to be dinner.   If you are weak stomached, or perhaps deeply appreciate the
sterilization that our industrialized food production instills, you may not want to continue.  I promise to have a slightly less bloody story for next time.
Paprikash turned out to be a boy.  One ill-fated Tuesday morning, I went out to toss the girls their scraps for the day, walked down the alley off to the bus stop and "carrrraaaagh" came echoing between the garages, assailing my ears.  We had our doubts about the sexuality of this one hen.  She had been aggressive since day one, straining her neck and cheeping louder than the other three.  Then her neck feathers started to loosen a bit and when harassed, she would flare her feathers.  Her tail feather started to grow longer than the rest and started to curl over.  But that sound was the final axe that fell.  I had promised neighbors and my landlord that I would not have roosters.  Paprikash is a boy, and he needs to die.
Marching down the alley with extra anxiety in my step, I ran the gamut of options.  The Chicago Chicken Google Group often posts about lost roosters, or folks in the city having extra roosters that they don't know quite what to do with so I knew that going that route to find little Papri a new home had been over saturated.  8 of my best girl friends from college were due to arrive two days later for one of the best bachelorette weekends of all time, and beheading a cock was not on the agenda.  So I called up a favor from a friend.
Bright and early Saturday morning, two friends, Paprikash and I did the death march over to Green City Market.  A farmer there that I've been buying from for two years promised to take Papri off my hands. "I'm actually taking a whole lot of my hens to the processor.  You want me to throw him in and bring him back to you next week?"

I said yes.

So here he is, in all his glory.  He had to sit in the freezer for a few weeks until I had 5 hours to cook him, and brave friends who wanted to celebrate the end of a few good months.  Most chicken we eat is three months old, and Papri lived a nice, free range, 4 month long life, well fed and well loved.  And with a little help from Julia Child, he was absolutely delicious.
and for the record, I have officially learned my lesson.  I will never count my chickens before they become full hens.  Oops.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Detox on the Farm

Please tell me summer is almost over. Mine has been chock-jammed full of weekends away, weddings, music festivals, friends in town, running about, CSA challenges, bike rides on and on and on.  I wouldn't take back one single trip but August hit me hard.  Really hard.  Since Memorial Day weekend, I have been out of town 8 of the last 12 weekends.  Oiy.  It hurts more just typing that one out and rereading.  Really Jo?!  8 of 12.  No wonder I've been worn out. 

A good detox weekend away was in order and luckily, I have good connections with the folk out in central Missouri.  Hamilton, Missouri to be precise.  I dare you to look at that Google map and not be jealous.  I'm smack dab in the middle of fine USA soil surrounded by cornfields and soybeans for miles.  My roommate's grandparents saved up for years to buy their fine 40 acre farm.  Dean sold feed and Donna working at a beauty shop in town, kids went to school and the whole family would come home to tend their pigs, cattle, chickens and anything else Dean wanted to try his hand at.  At their peak, they had 30 sows and would raise piglets for 6 months, then sent them off to a feed lot.  Currently, D&D are hosting hoards of grand and great-grand children and only watching after a stray yellow calico cat who has yet to decide if he will adopt them as new owners.
What follows is a collection of memories from the weekend, and the intriguing farm facts that one gathers when all you do for four straight days is work and talk and swim and sleep.  Wisdom to be gained grows in them fields.
 Bounty from H&M Country Store, run by the Amish of Jamesport. Purchased: pineapple slices, flax seed, french burnt peanuts, whole nutmeg, candied ginger, tapioca pudding, garlic jelly, mini chocolate chips, banana chips, dried green beans, honey, local pasta, salted corn chips with flax, spicy black bean corn strings, steel cut oats, spearmint tea, agave nectar and tomato knives.  Successful trip.  Jamesport is full of stargazer quilts and oak furniture, funny beards and soft, unassuming smiles and the best club sandwich I've never had. 
Neighbors on the north side of the fence.  Black cattle are the hot commodity right now for beef raising. Dean couldn't tell me why but the black ones against any other breed are the most highly valued.  For 20 cows, you only need one bull and that's a lot of action.  Gestation period for cows is 9 months and typically you keep your bull away from the cows until early spring.  Even at a 20:1 that guy will never stop.
D&D's best friends.  We rode around their land for about 2 hours and three days later, my legs are still sore.  Smokey hadn't been ridden in over a year, and never by anyone save Bob.  I coaxed him around the pen a time or two but, again, heels still sore from kicking. A good stud should have eyes that are far apart, a narrow face and strong shoulders.  Colts are weaned and sold between 6 and 8 months and then broken at 2 years old.
After hours of work on the farm, running around Jamesport or riding, we took naps on the dock.  Above is the view from the dock up to the house from the pond.  First 14 inches were bathtub warm, the rest--cool from the spring that feeds it.  D&D built it when they first bought the land.
Evening walks past the neighbors' land, dogs, cattle-- we were an oddity walking down the gravel road, as if they knew we were just city girls posing for the weekend.  Sunset colors orange, magenta and deep blue every night, with clear views of the Milky Way and a good handful of shooting stars each night.
Slap a sign around my neck that reads "will work for food and quite space."  We dug little trenches, laid edging, trimmed trees, hauled rocks and dirt-- the burdens resting on D&D's minds became outlets to clear our minds.  As it happens, nothing cures stress quite like getting sore, sweaty and fatigued. 
When we pulled up, the corn had all been smashed down by a violent storm that blew through Friday night.  By Monday afternoon, it had all perked back up again, pulled up by the sun, according to Dean.  The green beans that I'm strolling through haven't been great this year.  D&D won't be able to can a fraction of what they normally do to make it through winter.  This summer, Donna had already canned beans, pickles, tomatoes and then freezes corn, peaches, strawberries and stores potatoes and onions in their basement. 
Sometimes, all a girl needs is a little bit of calm space.