Ok, I admit it, I'm a full-fledged gadget junkie and I found my happy place at the annual International Housewares Show. Imagine an entire hall of McCormick Place filled with the latest and greatest in gadgets and cooking products. It's almost overwhelming, but I persevered and will share with you through Gadget Adventures which products I liked the best. Of the hundreds of items that I saw this year, the three trends that stick out in my mind are color, eco, and tea. Manufacturers are bringing colors into the kitchen, from utensils to bowls to serving pieces to appliances. For example, KitchenAid now offers their Artisan stand mixer in 29 colors. Eco everything is also huge this year, whether it's in terms of recycled materials, reusable items, or disposables that are environmentally friendly, everyone is jumping on that bandwagon, which is very encouraging. And last, but not least, tea has become the new "hot" beverage. Check out Gadget Adventures for my new favorite tea infuser.
We announced our 2010 Frontera Farmer Foundation grant recipients on Friday, and with the extra money from Rick's Top Chef Masters win, it was an especially happy time both in the office and with the farmers we were able to help this year. I'll give you the overview, but for more detailed information, check out our website.
I also wanted to share some information about our culinary scholarship at Kendall College. The deadline for applications is May 25th, so if you know of anyone who qualifies, please forward this information to them.
Spotlight on Topolobampo: Spring has arrived at Topolo, along with a revamped lunch menu, and it's personified by this new seasonal salad that Chef Brian has created. Brian's inspiration for this new lunch menu is to create his vision, i.e. a complete story on a plate. This dish is called Ensalada Primaveral, and features City Farm mache and fiddlehead ferns, along with a soft poached egg and smoked pork loin. Grilled green beans, along with croutons and candied pecans, add the textural elements to this salad and elevate it to a dish that just sings Spring.
Frontera Culinary Scholarship: First, let me give you a little background on what we hope to accomplish with this scholarship. Rick's aim was to give Chicago Public School students the opportunity to connect with both their community and cultural heritage through learning about the culinary traditions of Mexico. We partnered with Kendall College to combine a first-class culinary education, internship in our restaurants and accompanying us on our annual trip to Mexico as the building blocks to help the next generation of talented chefs reach their goals. Major funding for this program comes from adding one dollar to every bottle of wine we sell in the restaurant.
Jimmy Ortiz was the first recipient of our scholarship. Here's how winning the scholarship has impacted him: His exposure to the culinary differences that exist in the various states of Mexico, how much his palate has expanded during his internship, and the eye-opening experience of working in a restaurant. He's proud of being chosen as the first recipient, but along with that pride, he feels a responsibility to set the bar high, and make not only himself proud of what he's accomplished, but also his family, the judges who picked him, Kendall and his mentors at our restaurant. His spirit and talent will take him far. Congratulations Jimmy!
The application, along with the criteria, is located on our web site. The deadline is May 25th to return the completed application. Please pass this information on to any Chicago Public School high school senior who would be eligible to apply.
Frontera Farmer Foundation: This is a red letter year for the foundation in terms of fulfilling our mission to help develop and sustain local farmers in the Midwest. We were able to award 18 grants for a total of $186,000. Some of the projects that are being funded this year are: farm equipment, transportation for CSA deliveries, farmers market trailer, freezers and cold storage, hoop houses, irrigation systems, expansion of livestock operations, and establishing a free range duck egg business to name just a few. There's a complete list of the farmers and their projects on the web site.
FYI. Our annual Frontera Farmer Foundation benefit is June 13th, but should you want to make a donation to the foundation before that, we do accept donations on line.
Gadget Adventures: Of all the tea brewing devices I saw at the show, it was this tea infuser that peaked my interest. I was attracted to it both in terms of the look and the engineering behind the design. The infuser basket, which you can use with either loose tea or bags, screws into the lid. Once you're done brewing your tea, you unscrew the basket and place it inside a holder, so there's no drips. The pitcher holds 24 ounces of water and is made from BPA-free AcraGlass. It comes with a jacket to hold in the heat and other than the jacket, every piece is dishwasher safe. The cost of the infuser is $24.99. To locate a retailer near you, contact Takeya USA.
New from the Test Kitchen: Key limes are in the grocery stores now, and if you'd like to make a dessert other than the traditional pie, check out my Key Lime Cake with Pepitas.
Going Green: Bill Shores is our master gardener whose responsibilities include Rick's backyard garden, greenhouse, microgreens production, and rooftop garden. A partial list of crops that are grown for use in both Topolo and Frontera are: salad greens, microgreens, chiles, tomatoes, garlic, hoya santa, epazote, chives, parsley, garlic chives, and edible flowers. Additionally, Bill plants and maintains the decorative plants, flowers and grape vines that are part of Rick & Deann's backyard. Bill has been working with Rick for the last five years and has dramatically increased the output of the gardens. Last summer's yield from the rooftop garden alone was 110 pounds of chile peppers and 900 pounds of tomatoes, all grown in containers, in an area that's less then 1,000 square feet.
Here are some of Bill's tips for maximizing the output of your vegetable garden.
1. Soil: Testing and augmenting your soil through organic compost material.
2. Study your micro-climate: Select the right site within your garden with adequate sunlight. Drainage is also very important in selecting your site.
3. Water: Watering in the right amounts for the varieties you have planted. Too much water is just as detrimental as too little.
4. Planting: Plant at the appropriate time based on the requirements of the seeds you have selected.
5. Seed Selection: Select the right varieties based on your planting zone. Your local County Extension Office is a good source of information on what works in your area.
Bill has a Masters in plant biology and runs a garden management and design business focusing on intensive, small-scale gardening systems. He has over 10 years experience designing and running organic commercial food gardens, designing urban landscapes and teaching intensive gardening techniques. For more information about Bill and his company, Shores Garden Consulting Inc., check out his web site.
Casa Verde Imports: We often get questions on where we find some of the pieces we use to accessorize the show. One of our sources for beautiful handmade accessories, glassware, and tableware that are both unique and of impeccable quality is Casa Verde. They work directly with local artisans throughout Mexico to create these pieces. Right now, they are offering a 30% discount on many of the items on their site.
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