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 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.