Have you ever notice how open and friendly people are this time of year? Everyone greets you with a “Happy New Year” and that feeling of good cheer seems to bubble over.
It’s like we’re given a clean slate where anything seems possible. We all believe that this year will be better than last and although our problems may not have disappeared, at least for the first week or two of the new year, they seem to be on hold.
It’s that feeling of optimism that I’d like to hold on to throughout the year and that’s my resolution for 2010. So, here’s to 2010 and all the promise that it brings.
Peeks into Chef’s Inspiration. There’s a great story that goes with this beet salad. Our Chef de Cuisine, Brian, got married in October and wanted to prepare all the food for his wedding. He looked for dishes that could be prepared in advance, and then executed by other people during the dinner.
One of the dishes was this beet salad, which everyone raved about. When it was time for this year’s Christmas party, the theme we picked was Brian and Autumn’s (Brian's new wife) wedding. Rick was tweeting about the dishes we were eating and again, this beet salad was the dish that got the most hits. Since we’re closed until Jan. 12th, I thought is would be cruel to feature a dish from the menu that you wouldn’t be able to get, so I substituted this recipe.
Brian's version starts out with roasted beets, which he combines with Honey Crisp apples and red onion, providing nice textural elements to the salad. It's a simple vinaigrette made with sweet sherry vinegar and it's finished off with crumbled blue cheese. You can make this salad several days in advance, just wait until right before you serve to add the blue cheese.
Mexico One Plate at a Time TV Update. Seasons 4 and 5 of One Plate are premiering on ABC Living Well Cable Network on January 11th.
The Living Well Network is nationally syndicated, so check with your local cable or satellite provider for more information.
Frontera Farmer Foundation. Will Travis is part of an Illinois farming family that can trace its roots back to 1830. Will received his Frontera Farmer Foundation grant in 2007 for the equipment to process maple sap into maple syrup plus money towards constructing a building to house the equipment which Will built himself. Will’s 5th great grandfather learns how to convert maple sap into maple syrup from the native Kickapoo Indian tribe and it was a major crop on the farm until the mid-50’s.
In 2000, Will, at the age of nine, who’s the 8th generation in the family to make maple syrup, started up the operation again using the original equipment in the original building. The original building only had a dirt floor and the original equipment was a copper pot over a live fire. Under those conditions, he could only produce syrup for their own personal use. In order for Will to start selling commercially, he needed to meet code. The code dictated all stainless steel equipment, and the building needed to have a concrete floor and washable walls all of which represented a substantial investment.
Originally Will had 50 taps, today he has around 300. In the 6 week season that the sap is running, he collects about 9.600 gallons which translates into about 200 gallons of syrup. With the original cooper pot over a live fire, it took 11 hours to boil down 106 gallons, with the new equipment, that figure is down to 3 hours.
The season starts in mid to late February since you need temperatures to be between 34 to 40 degrees during the day and 28 to 30 degrees at night for optimal flow and goes for approximately 6 weeks. Every day, Will collects the sap from about half of the trees he’s tapped and it runs it in batches through the evaporator. He removes it from the evaporator and filters the boiled down sap several times. It’s then transferred into the finishing unit where it’s boiled again to 221 degrees. Once it’s cool, it bottled into either 1 gallon jugs or 12 ounce bottles. Since the demand is greater than the supply that Will can process, he planning on purchasing a larger evaporator this year.
In addition to his maple syrup operation, he also helps with all the crops on the farm (Spence Farm in Fairbury, IL) plus he maintains and repairs all the farm equipment. The day I called to interview him, he was at a neighbor’s farm helping them bottle their goat milk.
Given Will accomplishments and his passion for what he’s doing, it easy to forget that he’s only 18 years old. He’s an amazing person!
Kitchen Gadget Adventures. I’ve had these salad hands for years, although mine have always been made out of wood. I love this new design by Dexas since they’re made out of a dishwasher safe plastic and are stain resistant. The lips on the grip rest on the edge of the bowl, so you don’t have to worry about them slipping into your salad or pasta dish. They work much better than tongs or other utensils at grabbing and holding on to salad or pasta. The salad hands come in 4 colors and are $10.00 a pair. Check them out at Sur La Table both on line and in their stores.
New Recipes from the Test Kitchen. It’s winter in Chicago which means we’re in the deep freeze. We end up spending more time at home, whether it’s because of the amount of snow and ice or just because it’s too darn cold to go outside. I have several soup recipes that come together quickly and are made with ingredients that store well in the refrigerator or pantry to help ward off the cold.
The Roasted Tomato Soup is made with roasted canned tomatoes and a store bought beef broth. I added a habanero, because the fruitness of that chile works well with the tomato. If you're looking for more of a main course soup, try garnishing it with shrimp. Either way you serve this soup, it's delicious.
The next recipe came about because when I think about tomato soup, it just naturally goes with a grilled cheese sandwich. I wanted that same taste without having to make the sandwich, so I created this Cheese Bread with Serrano Chiles. It’s a recipe that I adapted from one in Carol Field's The Italian Baker cookbook. The recipe makes two loaves, one to eat and one to freeze.
The second soup is a variation on the classic Potato Leek which has roasted poblano and a garnish of crispy bacon. Since I was testing during the new book photo shoot, and wanted a hearty soup, I added thinly sliced grilled chicken breast. It also works well with shredded rotisserie chicken from the grocery.
Sustainability. I’m still in my donation mode, although this time I was thinking about more unusually things, things that we just don’t know what to do with. The first thing that came to mind were old prescription eyeglasses or contact lenses.
According to the statistics that I found, there are more than 4 million pairs of glasses that are thrown away each year. Many of these donation sites also accept non prescription sunglasses and sealed and unexpired (more than 6 months left) contact lenses. Here's a partial list of organizations that collect and donate them. Goodwill, LensCrafters stores and Lion Club dropboxes. You can also send them to:
New Eyes for the Needy
549 Millburn Avenue
P.O. Box 332
Short Hills, NJ 07078
Many people have heard of the program that Nike started in 1990 called ReUse A Shoe, for recycling their used shoes. Since 1990 they have recycled close to 25 million shoes. You can drop off your old Nike shoes at any of their US stores. There's also a list of other drop off locations on their web site.
For other brands of athletic shoes, check out Recycled Runners. They accept all brands and types of athletic shoes and their map show locations through the world.
Updates and Reminders. We’ll be back from vacation on January 12th and all the restaurants will be open on their regular schedules.
We’ve extended the deadline for Frontera Farmer Foundation grant applications to the end of February. Given the financials and tax returns that need to accompany the application, we wanted to give people more time to complete their applications.
The next newsletter won't go out until the second week in February since I’ll be out of the country.
See you next month.
Test Kitchen Director/Web Site Culinary Director
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