The one where we trick the spring.

On my flight to Nashville last week, I stopped in the Hudson Booksellers to get my requisite trashy travel reads, namely: the newest issues of Bon Appetit and Gourmet. What with the sexy centerfold on ramps and Molly Wizenberg's (aka Orangette) recipe for leek confit, I decided it was high time the seasons incline toward my desires.

Saturday morning, back in Chicago, I marched resolute to the Green City Winter Market. I had no time for the warnings that it had been yielding little more than potatoes and mushrooms.

I have no time for such warnings!
It is time for kale!
Time for fresh from the ground leeks!
Time for anise-y drinks and sunsets and cool breezes on rooftops!
Time for the Velvet Underground wafting through windows wide open late into the night!

In other words: time for spring!

But the market would not yield to my unseasonal demands. A canvas bag of mushrooms, eggs, apples and half and half later, I half-heartedly eyed the vast array of microgreens. Pea shoots are lovely. Lovely. But pea shoots are not kale, and kale, my friends, is not yet in season.

(An aside about why I'm not so disappointed, after all: I never thought I'd need to spend time in these pages telling you about half and half. However. That is simply because I'd never had Blue Marble Family Farms half and half. It's cream line, and comes in a pleasing and rotund glass jar fresh from a local cow. It really, really costs more than I should ever think about spending on a coffee condiment [although apparently the farmer gave me a "stimulus plan discount"]; but it's actually so good that I gasped at my first sip, and then sat down to write Lauren an email about it. It would be absurd to consider home delivery of half and half, right?)

Later, having acquired desired kale and leeks from a certain notorious grocery store, we got down to the business of preparing a proper spring feast. And maybe kale is not in season, and maybe Saturday's sixty degrees was just a coy late-winter bluff; but I think we got the last word: because spring was in my kitchen, and on our plates, and in our bellies.

Fresh Egg Fettuccine with Garlic and Kale; Leek Confit

(for the pasta)
3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
4 eggs
a pinch of salt

(for the kale)
1 bunch lacinato kale, cut into thin strips
3 cloves of garlic, crushed
good olive oil
a shake of red chile flakes

(to finish)
leek confit
a splash of the dry white wine you are drinking
parmigiano reggiano

NOTE: A few months ago, Amber and I took the pasta 101 class from Chef Theo at Terragusto. To no one's surprise, I sort of fell in love with him, as he waxed about the relationships he built with farmers, his vehemently locally-sourced menu, and his involvement with the food advocacy scene in Illinois. The best thing that Chef Theo taught me, however, was not to be scared of making your own pasta. You can't really ruin it, which means it doesn't need to be a laborious or delicate process, but really can be something you make on an ordinary evening.

This recipe Chef Theo's; it calls for more eggs than recipes I've made in the past, and no olive oil at all. The dough came out bright sunshine yellow, and the market eggs I used were perfectly imperfect: all different sizes and shades.

(for the pasta)
Gather all your ingredients. On a clean counter, mound the flour, then make a large and fortified well in the center. Add the eggs to the center of the well and break the yolks. Tracing your fingers around the edge of the well in small circles, gradually pull more and more flour into the center of the raw eggs (ew, ew, ew, ew) until all is incorporated. Pick up the dough and knead for 2 or 3 minutes, then let rest, covered, for about 15 minutes. Your dough should be stiff and not at all sticky.

Break off about a fourth of your dough and stretch into a rectangle narrow enough to fit through the widest setting of your pasta machine; spend enough time running the dough through this setting so that you feel like any of the kneading you were too impatient to do by hand happens by virtue of the machine. Gradually roll the dough thinner and thinner, and then cut into strips. Toss the noodles carelessly and effortlessly with a bit of flour to keep them from sticking to each other, and set aside.

(If you're a bit lazy like Chef Yum Yum, the preceding paragraph would have been where you handed off the real work to your adept and confident companion chef, the one who insisted that it was, in fact, a good idea, to make homemade pasta at 7:45pm [he was right], while you took time to prepare the kale.)

Meanwhile, bring a large, salted pot of water to a boil.

(for the kale)
In a large pan, heat the olive oil over medium high-heat. Add the garlic and a generous shake of red pepper flakes, and stir until just fragrant. Add the kale in handfuls, and stir until it wilts enough that you can add more to the pan; if your kale is fairly dry, you may need to add a little water. Season with salt and pepper, and saute the kale til it is tender-crisp.

Just as the confit is finished confit-ing, add a generous splash of white wine, raise the heat, and let the wine evaporate off. Keep warm.

Add the pasta to the boiling water for just a minute or two, and then remove to a large bowl with a slotted spoon. Toss with the kale, a drizzle of olive oil, and lots and lots of grated parmigano reggiano.

Layer each plate with a few spoonfuls of confit, and then a generous heap of pasta. Garnish with more cheese, and marvel that there is something very similar in the taste of leeks and kale, even as they still taste quite different. Maybe that's the taste of spring?


Faux Pho: Dinner with the BEST Friend

all photos courtesy of LEO

The morning I moved out of my last apartment into my new apartment, Lauren arrived at 8am with coffee. The movers, of course, were four mysterious and unapologetic hours late. After they ripped me off in every possible way, on the only unbearably hot day of the summer, Lauren took me to Target to buy toilet paper and a new shower curtain, then made me a dirty martini and slept over so I wouldn't feel lonely in my new place.

One of the movers - I suppose it wasn't his fault the truck broke down - observed,

"Is she your sister? Or your mother?"

(This might seem offensive except for the fact that Lauren is so obviously not my mother, let alone my sister, that it's only hilarious.)

"No," I laughed. "Just a friend."

"Ooooh," he nodded vigorously. "A very good friend. The BEST friend."

He had a point. I mean, who else - besides my actual mother - would come over and make me soup when I'm all hoarse and coughing and feverish and watch 4 episodes of 30-Rock with me that she'd already seen? Who else but the BEST friend?

no secret pork here.

We'd been plotting a reprise of Bittman's Faux Pho for a few weeks, and in light of certain revelations made on this very site my love of all things MB has escalated to a minor frenzy (or maybe it was just the fever). I wanted this soup, urgently.

God bless Mark Bittman: I always eye the Pho in restaurants, but even at the place my vegan friends go on Argyle, I have a sneaking suspicion that there's some secret fish in the "vegetarian" soup, if not also some secret pork.

Ew. Pork shouldn't be a secret.

lime, chili, broccoli, scallion, napa, basil, sprout, cilantro, tofu, carrot, udon.
something mysterious happens to the basil in this soup:
it begins to taste like coconut, and then like licorice.
i can't explain it; i can only savor it.

As I lined up the accessories for the Faux Pho's photo shoot, Lauren remarked, "Peter is never this patient. He always complains that the food will get cold."

Well, that's what friends are for.

(for those of you who missed out: a great piece on why we maybe can feel hopeful about our food culture by MB.)

Faux Pho (Mark Bittman! You're so clever!)

(adapted from How to Cook Everything Vegetarian)

6 oz udon noodles (I like to have this kind on hand)
2 tbs peanut oil
2 tbs minced garlic
1 tbs fresh grated ginger
1/2 tsp freshly ground coriander seed
1/2 tsp freshly ground cinnamon
1/2 cup soy sauce + more to taste (I love you, Salt. Let's get married.)
1 cup of diced tofu
2 bay leaves
a handful chopped cilantro
a handful chopped basil
1 fresh thai chili, sliced
2 scallions, sliced
1 lime, cut into wedges
a handful of fresh bean sprouts
2 leaves napa or purple cabbage, shredded
1 cup of broccoli florets, briefly blanched
1 carrot, grated

In a pot of salted, boiling water, cook the pasta for 5 minutes or until just tender. Drain, rinse in cold water, and set aside.

In a deep skillet or medium saucepan, heat the oil over medium-high heat. When shimmering, add the garlic and ginger, and stir until just fragrant. Add the coriander and cinnamon, and stir until you begin to feel sort of dizzy and intoxicated by the smell of it all (or maybe it's just the fever). Add 6 cups of water, soy sauce, and bay leaves, and simmer while you prepare your vegetables.

Ideally, once Lauren has finished doing all the hard work (i.e., chopping one million vegetables), you'll arrange them in austere little dishes just like CYY's. Just before serving, add the tofu to the broth and simmer for a few minutes.

Put a mound of noodles in the bottom of a comically over-sized bowl (LEO prefers a larger ratio of noodles to broth; while CYY prefers a larger ratio of broth to noodles) and ladle broth over the noodles. Garnish with vegetables, herbs, and accouterments as you please, and toast to friendship with a mug of fresh ginger-lemon tea.


Matthew Cressler Demands a Dinner Party

all pictures courtesy of LEO

I have met Matthew Cressler a total of three times:
Once, at the office when he came to pick up Mary Ellen.
Once, at the American Academy of Religion.
Once, in Grant Park, with 100,000 other giddy Chicagoans (granted, a lot of deep bonds were formed that night).

So, it's sort of - you know - forward, right, for him to invite himself over for a dinner party?

Apparently every time Mary Ellen cooks for him, he asks, "When is Cassie going to have us over for a dinner party?" Now, Matt, if you're reading this, I just want to say - I think Mary Ellen is a pretty rad girl, and I gather she's a decent cook; in general, it's bad form to talk about some other chef's cooking when you've just been cooked a nice meal. It seems particularly bad form if you've never eaten said other chef's cooking. So I'm feeling obligated to throw a dinner party just to keep you from continuing to put your foot in your mouth.

salad of heirloom lettuces, market grapes, sunflower sprouts,
shaved chioggia beets, oregon bleu

I'm thinking December 13th, what do you think Matt? Does that work for you and Mary Ellen? I want to make sure your dinner party fits into your schedule. Do you have any dietary restrictions, or foods I should avoid? Any foods you're particularly fond of? How about any preferences for fresh flowers? What about lighting - do you prefer votive candles or tea lights? Sparkling water or still?

So, I'm banking on waning readership with this one, but who else would like to come to Matthew Cressler's Dinner Party (aside from the usual Chicagoans, you're already invited and you know who you are)? Rumor has it Guy will come up from Woodstock; other out-of-town diners (including, but not limited to, those from: Durham, Seattle, New Haven, Bellevue, Cambridge, Portland, NYC) are invited to take a little trip to Chicago, and since Matt is taking care of a wine pairing with each course, visiting travelers should plan on bringing nothing but their fine selves.

Until then: a recipe from the last dinner party.

Fresh Sage Pasta, Foraged* Mushrooms, Red Kuri Squash, Sage

(the mushrooms and squash preparation is inspired by a Thomas Keller recipe.)

(for the pasta)
3 tbs finely chopped sage
1 c unbleached all-purpose flour
healthy pinch of salt
1 large, fresh egg
1 tsp good olive oil

(for the mushrooms and squash)
NOTE: The kuri shell is very very hard - you'll need extremely big muscles, like Chef Yum Yum's, and a very sharp knife to peel it and chop it to the requisite 1/2 inch dice. You should have about 3 cups squash once it is chopped.
1 medium sized red kuri squash; if red kuri is not available, you can use butternut, but you will likely live to regret the decision.
canola oil
1 tbs butter
12 sage leaves

12 oz. mixed foraged mushrooms
canola oil
1 tbs butter
1 medium shallot, minced
1 tbs fresh thyme

(finishing the pasta)
4 tbs butter
2 tbs minced chives
1 tbs fresh italian parsley
1/2 lemon

(for the pasta)
Dear Readers, there are many, many great recipes for making fresh pasta out there; the ingredients above draw from the Greens Cookbook; may I also commend to you any of Mark Bittman's recipes, as well as the excellent, excellent class Amber and I took at Terragusto (more on that in a later post). It is far too late, and far too illegal for me to copy the 3 pages of pasta making instruction that Deborah Madison offers. Buy the book; it is worth the investment, and easier on the eyes than a blog, anyways.

(for the mushrooms and squash)
In a large, deep and heavy bottomed pan (le creuset!), heat a thin layer of canola oil over medium high heat. Add the butter and let it brown a bit, then toss in half the sage leaves and half the squash (you'll want to fill the pan but not crowd the squash), and salt and pepper to taste. Cook squash, tossing occasionally, until well caramelized and brown on the outside, and melting on the inside. On a paper towel lined baking sheet, drain the squash and sage leaves separately. Repeat with remaining squash. Set aside, and wipe out your pan with a paper towel.

Heat another layer of canola oil in the same pan, and add the butter to brown. Toss in the mushrooms and raise the heat; cook until the mushrooms begin to brown, and raise heat to evaporate any excess water they release. Add the shallot, thyme, salt and pepper, and cook 3 or 4 minutes. Drain on another paper towel lined baking sheet, and wipe out the pan with a paper towel.

As soon as your pasta water comes to a hot and bothered boil, brown remaining 4 tbs of butter in your pan. Toss in the parsley and chives and let them crackle a little, and then, carefully carefully squeeze the lemon half into the browned butter (it will splatter!). Cook your pasta for just a minute or so, then drain and toss with just 1/2 the browned butter. Toss the remaining butter with the squash and mushrooms and heat until just warmed. To plate, nestle a small serving of pasta next to a scoop or two of the mushrooms and squash. Serves 6, exactly.

*If by "foraged" one means "bought at the Green City Market," then, yes! in fact I did forage those mushrooms!


See how bravely - gravely! - Chef Yum Yum suffers for love of Food and Friends!

When Natalie first started dating Matthew, she would wax dreamily of his gardening prowess - "Chef Yum Yum! my basil, it was dying, and Matthew came and blew each leaf a gentle kiss, whispered kind, encouraging herby words, then covered its roots with worm poo, and Chef Yum Yum! my basil flourishes as basil has never before flourished!"

Matthew, it seems, has a knack for these sorts of things: the back porch of their house crowds in a meyer lemon tree, heat tolerant spinach varieties, arugula, every herb imaginable, tomatoes, peppers. It's partly Matthew, but it's also partly this beautiful place that is Durham, North Carolina. Natalie's hardly working to quell my mythologizing, taking me to the farmer's market to buy fresh butter beans and sungold tomatoes (as an aside: any thoughts to where I can find fresh beans in Chicago? Durham flaunts the pinto-esque October bean, field peas, edamame...), and plotting up a mighty autumnal feast for Rosalind's 24th birthday.

Lentil and root vegetable cakes cozy up in a honey, lavender and shallot puree; fresh savory pumpkin rolls befriend an arugula, pear and buttermilk blue salad. The zenith of the meal - upside-down pear ginger cake with lemongrass caramel from The Arrows Cookbook gave me the opportunity to try out some of the rosy stalks of Matthew's lemongrass. I'd actually never used fresh lemongrass before; before heading out of town to visit family, Matthew had instructed me in the harvest, and I bent down to cut the stalks as close to the base of the plant as possible. Lemongrass looks like a bamboo birthed of a palm tree, and has long leaves (already removed when you buy the stalks at the store) that are a bit abrasive, but I boldly shoved my arms in to the middle of the plant, hacking away with the kitchen shears. It took a while, and I was essentially in the lemongrass plant, but I managed to get four sturdy stalks. As I was pulling off the blushing outer leaves, suddenly I was itching, itching, ITCHING:

It felt like I was having an allergic reaction - to the lemongrass leaves? - I quickly rinsed my arms with hot soapy water, and it was only a few hours later that I realized my arms were actually covered in thin red welts from my time inside the lemongrass plant. I do think I fared a bit better than the plant (once looming, now limp), but I've vowed to eat the caramel at every turn, that my suffering not be in vain.

Buttermilk Pancakes with Lemongrass Caramel

I made these pancakes Friday morning, while Natalie graded papers; the pancakes are my own-ish recipe; the caramel comes from The Arrows.

Ingredients, for the caramel:
1 1/2 c sugar
1 stalk lemongrass (I used 4 rather small stalks from Matthew's bedeviled lemongrass), hard outer leaves peeled, and coarsely chopped
1/2 cup water
2 tbs freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 tbs light corn syrup
1 c heavy cream

Ingredients, for the pancakes:
2 c unbleached flour (or add a little whole wheat, if you like)
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
2 tbs brown sugar
1 tsp salt
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp nutmeg
2 eggs
2 c buttermilk

Method, for the caramel:
With a large, heavy knife, finely chop together the lemongrass and the sugar (or whirl in a food processor). Combine with water, lemon juice and corn syrup in a large, heavy bottomed stainless pan over medium heat, and bring to a boil. Now, I'm always a bit terrified of ruining things like caramel, and I was not about to have another bout with the lemongrass, so I had the heat far too low, and consequently, the caramel took about 400 years to caramelize. I'll be braver next time, and perhaps you'll be brave the first time around, and caramelize your caramel over a true medium heat. Stir with a wooden spoon until all the sugar dissolves, and then let boil until the caramel turns a deep amber color. Occasionally, you'll need to wipe down the insides of the pan with a wet pastry brush, to keep any rogue sugar crystals from forming on the sides of the pan.

Meanwhile, warm the cream in second saucepan. When the syrup is caramelized, pour the warm cream into the hot syrup. It's helpful to drape a kitchen towel over the opening of the syrup pot, except where you pour the cream in, as the syrup will splatter. Whisk over medium heat until just smooth, and then pour through a strainer into a heat-proof container. Let the caramel cool to room temperature.

Method, for the pancakes:
Heat a griddle or cast iron skillet to medium-low heat. Mix together the dry ingredients, then whisk in eggs and buttermilk, but do not over mix; the batter should be a bit lumpy. When the skillet is hot, add a bit of oil, and then measure out 1/3 cup fulls of batter, and cook until bubbles on the surface pop, and the underside is golden. Flip, and continue cooking until golden. Serve immediately with lemongrass syrup (and also pears and toasted walnuts, if you like), or keep in a warm oven until you are done pancaking. Eat, with relish! eyeing the now drooping lemongrass plant vindictively.


On Tomatoes and Burrata: or, Not a Recipe But a Reconciliation

So I could pretend to have a good excuse for not posting in over a year. I don't.

But I do have a good excuse for posting for the first time in over a year, namely, summer: at last.

There are some miserable things about summer in Chicago (these include: bugs, the heat, the humidity, the dust, the heat, the humidity, wanting to eat nothing but iceberg lettuce because of all the heat and humidity) and then there are really wonderful things about summer in Chicago (these include: Miko's, garage sales galore, the greenest boulevards, walking everywhere, it no longer being winter).

And, there is the farmer's market. This summer the market has really, really come into it's own (was it just two summers ago that Lauren bought that handmade goat milk soap that made her smell like a rancid goat?); I'm sort of in love with all the farmers there, and this weekend filled my bags with cantaloupe, raspberries, peaches, eggs (time to make more ice cream), green beans and yellow wax beans, baby broccoli and - my heart catches in my throat - the first tomatoes of the season.

I forget every year. I forget, how could I forget? The swoon-worthiness of a real summer tomato? We've been tossing them with just a touch of olive oil, sea salt and basil, and serving with a melting slice of burrata (which reminds me of one other thing the Chicago summer is good for: quickly bringing cheese to a proper-ish temperature).

This, is not a recipe, I know, but a reconciliation: Chef Yum Yum asking her kind readers, might I not have your eye again? I'll not pretend I haven't neglected you sorely, nor pretend that you still bother to click my page; instead I ask that we all think to the lesson of the gentle burrata, nestled dearly against the smooth, confident curve of her beloved tomatoes. Might not a sweet summer salad do us all a little good?

As for me, September brings a new home with an air-conditioner (I'll be baking bread, all summer long) and a dishwasher (which I hear saves more water than hand washing, anyways), and some new work on green issues with my church. I'm plotting to make the ways that we eat a central part of this (I know, I know, the air-conditioner doesn't really jive with "green," but those of you who are judging me, think for a moment: do you live in Seattle or San Francisco, or some other year-round-breezy-locale? That's what I thought. None of my Durham friends or Atlanta friends are judging.); we're meeting Thursday to talk about incorporating CSAs into hospitality hour, oh my.

So: more recipes on the way. Here's to the tomatoes; here's to the burrata.



Note from a bereaved reader:

I turn to chef yum yum for recipe ideas and
where have you left me? In the lurch, that's where.
It's been going on two months since you've posted.
I'm heading out to NYC's ONE Trader Joe's soon and it
would have been nice to have some Cassie-inspired
ideas for my shopping. Poor, cooking-helpless Neil.

I know. I'm sorry. Many of you have been scolding me for my absence as of late, it's not that I haven't been cooking, it's just that I've been very busy. I promise, promise, I'll have a real post for you by the end of this week.



(p.s.: Neil, please don't think I'm so horribly lazy because I didn't actually reply to your email, but rather posted it on my blog instead. In other news, your thoughts on guitars made me string up mine with shiny new strings, and I've been playing again for the first time in forever, which is another reason I've not been blogging...)