In the early-1990s, I worked as a marketing consultant where my clients included many foodservice companies along with one that sold steaks and chops to high-end restaurants. We were in the middle of re-branding this company and revamping their newsletter was part of this campaign. (Back in the old days, newsletters were printed on paper and mailed out … mon dieu!) To headline the very first edition of this newsletter we chose a local Chicago chef who had recently been elevated to star status, none other than Rick Bayless.
And, I got to interview him.
At this time, I had been a huge fan of Frontera Grill and its food, had spent a wedding anniversary at Topolobampo, and had toddled out of the Frontera bar numerous times after consuming those famous margaritas. Delicious margaritas aside, eating at Frontera in those early days was when I discovered my kind of food ecstasy: simple, earthy and fresh with an infusion of intoxicating chili flavors and each dish perfectly, creatively woven together. It was transformative. Inspiring. It still is. So, you can imagine my anticipation upon meeting Chef Rick. I was thrilled.
What I remember from our meeting at Frontera was being in the restaurant on a morning when no customers were around, watching the kitchen staff prep for mealtime. Then, Rick sat down and I began a great conversation with this relaxed man who was so kind to me, answering all my questions and sharing his vision of a future food-world we now have branded as “good food”. He described how he sought out local farmers to grow the produce he needed, then helped them develop a distribution network to delivered this fresh produce to restaurants in Chicago. He spoke about his practices of using the highest quality meats and developing relationships with his meat purveyors and noting them on his menu. This was a first, I mean, who knew that the meat on a menu item actually came from a farm?! My interview with Rick was a visual tapestry of producing food in ways that nourishes the soil, rewards the farmers, links the restaurants and nurtures the earth.
The interview headlined the newsletter’s debut edition and the response was terrific. My client was happy, too. In the years since, Rick Bayless has become a mega-brand and an on-going visionary. He brings the world and its food sources closer in balance to health and sustainability. I’ve listened to him speak at a number of foodie-events over these years and his message still grabs me. I think about sustainability and how it applies to his life: a constant message, honed decades ago, that is now the acceptable drum beat which has led the “good-food” movement. All this while I’m sitting at the middle table, humbled diner, happily eating my tacos and swigging down a margarita ... sans kids, that is.
And now I present a way to invite Chef Rick into your home kitchens with his donated recipe to Healthy Fare for Kids: Snapper with Zucchini and Toasty Garlic Mojo. Thank you, Chef Rick!
And one last callout – aside from donated recipes, Frontera has two Healthy Fare for Kids menu items: tortilla soup with chicken, avocado, fresh cheese and sour cream or griddle-baked cheese quesadillas; served with black beans and pintos.
Boredom and time-fatigue are visitors to my kitchen more often than I’d like to admit. And when they’re next to me and I have to prepare dinner, I muster all my strength not to run to the phone and order food. I found a solution that I’d like to share with you during those nights when a delicious meal in a short period of time that checks off the healthy boxes seems like a daydream: frozen shrimp. Thank you, frozen shrimp! You have saved me more than once a month for a very long time.
Kids love shrimp. They’re small enough to eat with their fingers, can be used as a vehicle for scooping, are mild enough to pair with a number of flavors that your family likes and it’s just a great nutritious protein. If they don’t like it at first, keep trying and as they watch others in your family eat them, they will too.
I prefer the frozen uncooked shrimp, usually opting for the 26-30 count. This number refers to how many of the shrimp you get in a pound. The lower the number, the bigger the shrimp. Count out about 4 for each kid and 6 for each adult then place in a bowl of warm water to thaw. This process will take about a half hour. If you don’t have that much time, keep the warm water running and break apart the shrimp as the ice melts. Once the shrimps are a bit soft, remove from the water. You now have a lovely protein ready to use.
What to make with the shrimp? If it’s springtime and the new lettuces, ramps, asparagus, etc. are in full display at your farmers market, try our Springtime Salad with Shrimp, Asparagus and Avocado Dressing. Or try our Penne with Garlic Shrimp, Tomatoes and Zucchini recipe served with your favorite vegetables. Either way, having frozen shrimp in your freezer is the best tip I can give to preparing a quick, healthy and delicious meal when inspiration is nowhere in sight. Enjoy!
Today was the opening of the 2018 Green City Market here in Chicago. It's been a long winter in the Midwest. The first part of March was teased with mild temperatures, but then we got smacked with another six weeks of snow and cold. I'm happy to report that my sore temper gave way this morning as the white tents of the farmers market came into view in Lincoln Park. In the foreground were families stretched on blankets feeding their kids goodies from the market, and my dog, Leo, was an uninvited visitor to several parties. Everyone was forgiving because we all were celebrating the sunny, 70 degree morning with the lime-green new leaves decorating the trees and the aromas wafting from the food stalls. Yes, I was smitten and still am.
My first stop -- well, Leo's first stop -- was pulling my daughter and I to the Bennison's Bakery tent for a pretzel roll (how does he remember the exact location after a six month hiatus?). I turned around to visit one of my favorite farmer booths, Mick Klug Farms, where I met his daughter, Abby Schilling, the new owner. As soon as I saw their fresh ramps, I was inspired by my memory of an omelette last Sunday from Big Jones restaurant in Andersonville. It was the best omelette I ever ate with ramps, morel mushrooms and pecorino cheese that was perfectly cooked with no brown color. After I grabbed the ramps, I found beautiful crimini mushrooms at Ellis Family Farms along with asparagus for my next idea: dinner. My final stop was at Jake's Country Meats for their frozen walleye and my favorite bulk breakfast sausage. By this time, furry Leo had enough of the sun and we had to cut short our first of many visits to our idyllic farmers market this season.
Once home, I washed, trimmed and then diced a handful of ramps and mushrooms, and sliced some aged Parmesan cheese that I picked up from Eataly Chicago last week. Turning to my stove top, I pulled out my two favorite old friends ... my 9-inch Caphalon omelette pan, that looks like it's come through a few wars along, with a mini-saute pan that my sweet Aunt gave me as a gift during my single days along with an explanation that it would be "perfect for cooking just for one." (Sigh). Anyway, with both pans heating over medium heat, I added a little olive to the small one, then added the vegetable mixture for a quick saute. I cracked and beat three eggs then added them to the larger pan which was waiting with a small amount of melted butter. I sprinkled a little kosher salt into each pan, then turned the heat down to medium low under the eggs. Using a rubber spatula, I gently pushed the egg mixture as it cooked towards the middle so that the uncooked liquid seeped into the space. Around the pan I went, gently pushing until it looked like the custard had lost the runny look. I added the sautÃ©ed ramps and mushrooms along with the Parmesan cheese from Eataly Chicago and a few leaves of marjoram that I happened to have from a Chicken Panzanella recipe I made this last week. I folded one omelette side into the middle, then the other, and then over low heat, I let the creation get acquainted while melting together. It was a brief step yet a long one - I was starving!
I wonder whether plating the omelette on my quirky blue-dotted plate or taking my first bite was my favorite part of my omelette experience today. I can't decide because the entire day has been a long stretch of wonderful after a cruel April. Try my recipe for the Springtime Omelette with Ramps and Mushrooms for a weekend brunch or a post-farmers market dinner, then you tell me which is your favorite.