Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Eating Green for Our Anniversary

August 21 was our 5th wedding anniversary. Thank you. To celebrate this milestone, we treated ourselves to a nice dinner out: Frontera Grill in downtown Chicago. We had been to this restaurant, where the food could be described as authentic Mexican with a modern twist, for lunch a couple of years ago and were eager to try its more extensive dinner menu. It wasn't the good food alone that made this a perfect anniversary spot for us.

Chef Rick Bayless, the owner of Frontera and its upscale neighbor Topolobampo, is a local-and-recently-national celebrity, and we've been fans of his TV show, "Mexico: One Plate at a Time," and his cuisine for almost as long as we've been married. But there's more: He's also a big advocate for sustainability. Rick's website even says, "Here at Frontera, one of our goals is to live 'sustainability' everyday." In other words, the restaurant is green! Here are some examples of how:

  • They use seasonal, locally grown produce, including that from their rooftop salsa garden and from Rick's own backyard.
  • They buy responsibly raised meats—free-range chickens and ducks, certified organic lamb, and grass-fed beef—and sustainably harvested seafood.
  • The vast wine list includes some biodynamic (a method of organic, holistic farming) and other organic wines.
  • They recycle!
  • They compost!
  • They even give their spent vegetable oil to a farm that uses it for a bio-diesel delivery van.
Now that's pretty neat.

I'll just conclude by saying that dinner was indeed sumptuous. One pleasant discovery was the Café de Olla, a sweet and fruity spiced dessert coffee that we've since been trying to duplicate at home. And, we did not bring the leftovers home in Styrofoam clamshells, oh no. The restaurant has biodegradable cardboard containers for guests like us, whose eyes are bigger than their stomachs.

Actually, just one more thing: You can read more about Rick Bayless' newest efforts as a sustainability-driven restaurateur in this article from the March/April issue of Natural Home magazine.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Zucchini Tartlets

If you couldn't already tell, I love to experiment in the kitchen. This evening, I took the very same Zucchini Pie recipe I posted on August 9 and went all Martha Stewart with it to make these cute and delicious Zucchini Tartlets (I might like these better than the pie—they're cute, they're portable, but they do take a little more time).

Here's what I did differently:
After cooking the zucchini and onion in the butter and stirring in the spices, pour it all into a food processor and blend it up. Because the mixture is hot, leave open the center hole of your food processor's lid—or the steam under pressure might blow it off!
Let the mixture cool a little, and meanwhile open a can of crescent rolls. Unroll the dough and press the seams together so you have one big rectangle with no perforations. Now, cut the rectangle into 12 equal pieces. Press each piece a little thinner in your palm and then put them in the cups of a muffin pan.
Now pour the cheese into the mixture in your food processor and whip it up. Then beat in the eggs. Spoon the soupy mixture into the crescent-roll-lined muffin pan.
You'll only use about half of the filling, so get out another can of crescent rolls and make two pans, or save it for later (I froze mine—we'll see how it keeps).
Bake at 375 about 15 minutes, until the crescent rolls are beginning to brown and the zucchini filling has set. Allow to cool a few minutes in the pan, then very gently dig each tartlet out with a spoon. (My first two came out sloppy, but the rest kept their shape quite nicely when I worked slowly and carefully.)
TWO NOTES: I meant to put a dollop of Dijon mustard in each crescent roll before spooning in the filling, but I forgot! Honestly, I didn't miss it, but I bet it would be good. And, I stuck cherry tomato halves into the top of each tart on a whim after plating them, but next time I'm going to try baking them with the tomato halves already in place—if you should try it before I do, let me know how it turns out!

Shared at Eat Make Grow 

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Crab Grab

Today's adventure: picking crab apples! We visited just two spots, about 10-12 individual trees, and hauled back in the Croozer a whopping 35 1/2 pounds of deep red fruit ranging in size from cherry to golf ball.
There are still some crab apple trees not quite ready to be picked—you can tell by the lack of fruit on the ground below them. The trees we visited today were at the perfect stage. They had dropped many crab apples on the ground (but not so many that you have to walk through a bee-infested sludge of rotting fruit)—which means the apples are ripe—while plenty of apples remained in the tree—which means they're not overripe yet.

Len got on the stepladder and picked from the tree, and I mostly inspected the apples on the ground, bagging the ones that were not smashed, bruised or bug-bitten. Of course, we ate one while we were out—have to taste the product at every stage! These larger crab apples are tart but not bitter, like a Granny Smith but redder, if red can be a flavor.

And now, it's jam time! Expect a post about the crab apple jam soon.
.Rinsing the crab apples - this is a 16-lb. batch.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Summer's Slow Bounty and Zucchini Pie

Now that the strawberries and raspberries are long gone, I have been waiting impatiently to pick anything from my garden. It has been a slow growing season, thanks to the relatively cool temperatures and our awful clay soil. Only this week have a few of our cherry tomatoes begun to ripen. I have two (count 'em—two!) cucumbers that are growing abnormally—one looks like a cucumber ball and the other like a small, crook-necked squash. Our pumpkin plants (they're just too small to call vines) have flowers, so that's a good sign, but they have a long way to go yet. Our grapes are slowly getting bigger (so slowly!) and a few have begun to turn purple. Oh, and I think my butternut squash plants are kaput. Rabbits kept eating the blossoms (and no blossoms = no squash), so I rubbed hot pepper oil on them. It deterred the rabbits for sure but also killed the blossoms. Big sigh...

We've really gotta break in this soil or switch to raised beds for all summer vegetables. It's August, for crying out loud, and we have harvested a handful of baby tomatoes, one miniature bell pepper and that's it! Maybe I'll pull up the shallots and see if they're big enough.

I have, however, been enjoying the bounty of other people's gardens. My mother-in-law gave us a giant zucchini, half of which I used for fried zucchini strips and the other half to make sumptuous zucchini pie.

This is my mom's recipe for Zucchini Pie:

4 cups thinly sliced zucchini
1 cup sliced onion
1/4 c. butter
2 tablespoons parsley flakes (or 6 tablespoons fresh)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder (or 1-2 garlic cloves, minced)
1/4 teaspoon basil (or 1 teaspoon fresh)
1/4 teaspoon oregano (or 1 teaspoon fresh)
2 eggs
8 oz. shredded mozzarella
1-2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
refrigerated crescent roll dough or a pie crust

Preheat oven to 375. In a pan, melt butter and cook zucchini and onion (and garlic if you're using fresh) until tender, about 10 minutes. Stir in parsley, salt, pepper, garlic powder, basil and oregano.

In a mixing bowl, beat the eggs with the shredded cheese. Stir in the zucchini and onion.

Press the crescent roll dough or pie crust into a pie pan or square baking pan. Spread the Dijon mustard all over the crust. Dump in the zucchini mixture.

Bake 18-20 minutes. Let cool a little before cutting and serving.

It makes a great side dish or entree.