As much as I love Chicago, I can't help but wish that I lived someplace warmer in the winter, especially after spending a month in the Mediterranean. The temperatures were in the 70's and 80's, everything was green, the sun was shining, flowers were blooming, and spring fruit and vegetables were coming to market. Landing at O'Hare with snow on the ground, gray skies, and temperatures in the 20's made me wish that I could have waited until April to come back.
Since I spent the time with family, I was cooking every day, which meant that I spent quite a bit of time at the local markets and grocery stores. Once you're outside of the U.S., eating locally produced seasonal food is the norm. I suspect that it's based on several factors. First of all, culinary tradition seems to be much stronger and from an availability standpoint, whether it's driven by economics or customer demand, what's being sold is what's produced locally and in season. It did require flexibility on my part in terms of the dishes I was making, but the end results were made better by using ingredients that were at their best in terms of flavor.
I was inspired by this experience to think about the recipes that I included this month. I hope you enjoy them.
Peeks into Chef's Inspiration: This month's dish is from Chef Brian's Topolobampo menu. It's a brown butter poached Lake Superior walleye with an Oaxacan yellow mole, cilantro flecked chochoyotes and hoja santa braised fennel. Brian is always so inventive with his flavor pairings. The hoya santa and the fennel compliment one another, the brown butter that he used both with the fish and the fennel is a great balancing flavor to the mole, and the dehydrated black olive is being used to add a punch of flavor.
Brian's creations captivate the eye, but the real enjoyment comes from eating the dish. I hope you get the chance to come in and experience this dish for yourself.
Dates and Places Rick will be Appearing: Rick is participating in three charity events this month, all of which are open to the public.
On February 18th, Rick and Deann are co-hosting with Donna LaPietra and Bill Kurtis, the 2nd annual "A Taste for the Arts" benefit, which is being held at the Merchandise Mart. You can either purchase tickets on line or by calling 312-421-0202. The food is being prepared by several area chefs, including Rick, plus there will be wine pairings, specialty cocktails and craft beers.
On February 22nd, Hot Chocolate is celebrating their 5th anniversary which they decided to turn into a dinner fundraiser for "Share Our Strength," a charitable organization that is trying to end childhood hunger. Many of the area chefs, including Rick, are preparing courses for this anniversary dinner. Seats are going fast. For more information call 773-489-1747.
On March 1, Art Smith's charitable organization, Common Threads, is holding their 5th Annual World Festival at Soldier Field. Rick will be participating this year along with chefs from all over the country. This is their big fundraiser which allows them to teach low-income children how to cook wholesome and affordable meals through their hands-on cooking classes.
Frontera Farmer Foundation: This month I thought it would be interesting to check in with two of last year's grantees to see how their projects are coming along and the impact that the money made to their operation. Scotch Hill Farm is owned by Tony and Dela Ends. They applied to the foundation for money to dig a new well, increase capacity of their pump and extend their water lines. Even with the setbacks that they experienced, they finished their project before the cold weather set in. With these improvements, not only were they able to increase their output, but for the first time in 15 years, Tony is now able to devote full time to working on the farm. They are planning to submit another grant application this year that will go towards construction of a new vegetable washing and packing shed and a second high tunnel greenhouse.
Eric and Carrie Johnson own Jordandal Farms in Argyle, Wisconsin. They applied to the foundation in 2009 to buy Jersey dairy cows for their cheesemaking operation. They also applied some of the grant to updating their milk house. With the new cows and their calves, Eric and Carrie will more than double their milk production this spring. All of the milk is being shipped to Brunkow/Fayette Creamery, which is 20 minutes from their farm. The cheesemaker is making a French cheese call Pave Henri from the milk, and it's so popular that the demand has outpaced the supply. Carrie and Eric are also planning to apply to the foundation again this year in order to purchase four Jersey cows.
In the past, all of our fundraising for the foundation has come from our yearly June benefit. It's now possible for you to donate to the foundation on line. You have the choice of making a one time donation, or a recurring one. You also have the option of using the donation as a gift, or in honor or memory of a loved one.
Kitchen Gadget Adventures: I discovered these bowls at last year's Housewares show. The bowls are designed to channel the ingredients through the pour spout, and the wings on top keep everything in, which makes them virtually spill proof. In addition to the bowls, they also have a line of liquid measure beakers with the same features. I use them all the time when I'm baking for adding ingredients into the mixer. The bowls are available in various sizes and are manufactured by Pourfect, the same people who make the bowl scraping paddle for the KitchenAid mixer that I recommended last year.
New Recipes from the Test Kitchen: Rick and I were talking last month about chayote and tomatillos. Both are available year round, but most people have little or no experience using them.
For the last recipe, I took Alice Medrich's Chocolate Pudding recipe from her Pure Dessert cookbook, added ancho chile, espresso and Mexican chocolate and turned it into a filling for individual Mexican Chocolate Pudding Tarts.
Q: How long can I keep Mojo de Ajo (Liquid Gold) in the refrigerator?
A: You can keep the mojo for three months in the refrigerator as long as the garlic is submerged under the oil. You can add fresh oil to the mojo to keep the garlic covered. Before using, let the mojo stand at room temperature for 10 minutes. Once the oil has liquified, mix well.
Sustainability: We got into a discussion this week at work about recycling plastics. Many people are under the impression that if you find one of these symbols on a plastic container, it means that you can recycle it. That isn't necessarily the case. It's important that you contact your local recycler and find out exactly which plastics they accept for recycling. For example, in my neighborhood, they don't accept plastics marked with a 6 or a 7. That influences what I buy since I know that these plastics will end up in a land fill instead of being recycled.
Also, most recyclers don't recycle plastic bottle caps, so you should remove the caps before you recycle the bottles.
Chicago Restaurant Week: Both Frontera and Topolo are participating again this year in Restaurant Week. Join us for lunch on February 19th, 20th (Frontera only) 23rd, 24th, 25th, 26th or 27th (Frontera only). We're offering a special three course meal for only $22 (not including beverages, tax or gratuity). Check out the menu on our web site.
See you next month.
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