Where do I start!  First I love going to any farmers’ market and Evanston’s in North Suburban Chicago is one of the best.  The variety of organic vegetables, herbs, fruit, cheese, fresh eggs, and butter… flowers, plants, breads, and so much more is not typical of the smaller markets around.  It starts earlier than most of the others in our area and runs later.

Kit and I (aka “Market Girls’) usually leave around 7am and start our shopping.  Today, although there were dark clouds and some rain, we ventured out to get our basics.  We are both fans of Chef Cedric White’s homemade cookies.  They come in butter, strawberry butter, chocolate chip, peanut butter, and oatmeal.  If you are not there early you’ll probably miss getting them as they fly out of the booth.  I snagged the last strawberry butter cookies today.  The strawberries called Wendy Berries are so sweet and perfect I cannot stop eating them.  They look as if they are overripe but take a bite and you’ll want one bunch to snack on and one to bring home.  Stover’s Farms makes a great snack mix of dried cranberries, walnuts, cherries, and raisins that I buy to have in my car as a “pick me up” when gardening for clients.  I purchased the Blossom honey, a creamed version that is spreadable and not heated to clear.  It can be used the same way as standard honey but the creaminess is wonderful.  As a treat to myself I purchased a gorgeous bouquet of lupines and peonies.  They have a wonderful vendor that makes bouquets for you with a great selection of seasonal flowers to choose from.  I brought home shallots, fresh thyme, radishes, green onions, arugula, and fresh apple cider, along with my cookies, honey, strawberries, dried fruit snacks, and flowers.  The rain let up for our shopping and I’m home now trying to figure out what I will make with my market finds.

Next Saturday make it an early morning and try shopping at the Evanston’s Farmers Market.

 

 

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places to go: baker boys

May 11th, 2012 | Posted by admin in PLACES TO GO - (0 Comments)

It was a full day of planting for customers and shopping for plants at various nurseries.  We were in Ravinia and needed a quick bite of something.  Well… Baker Boys was in the hood so we stopped in.  We decided on a small frozen custard cone, something that would placate my growling stomach and keep me going another 4 hrs.  This is a mini bakery with the biggest flavors… sooooo good!!!

We loved the mint chocolate chip and the red velvet frozen custard.  I was definitely feeling good.  A few hours later my planting partner received a call that she needed to bring something sweet for dinner.  We were heading home from another nursery with a carload of plants.  I suggested she call “Baker Boys” for a dozen mini red velvet cupcakes.  No problem, they needed a 1/2 hr. to frost and box.  So we headed back to sample and talk to the nicest two shop owners.  Two grade school friends opened up this bakery, one a trained pastry chef the other great at frosting mini cupcakes.  The cupcakes were moist and flavorful with an amazing cream cheese frosting… did I forget to mention we sampled while we waited?  The boys invited us back… next time we come in around 5pm we’ll bring a bottle of red and eat chocolate cupcakes!  What could be better?

Stop in, you won’t be disappointed!

 

 

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places to go: smoque

May 2nd, 2012 | Posted by admin in PLACES TO GO - (0 Comments)

I had heard about Smoque for the past several years.  Friends of ours always order out from this barbecue spot and swear by it.  It’s not in our immediate neighborhood so I just haven’t stopped in until last Saturday.  I could smell the meat, the sauce… and I was hungry (not unusual).  We ordered the sliced brisket sandwich, the chopped brisket sandwich, a side of St. Louis Ribs… ohh and the peach cobbler.  We did not intend to eat everything but we couldn’t stop ourselves.  The brisket was tender, moist, with a great barbecue flavor.  The thick barbecue sauce was perfect with a kick to it.  The peach cobbler was good but not as excellent as the ribs and brisket.  Also they have a delicious coleslaw side… I could just order a large dish of that!  I will definitely be back either for a quick meal or take out.

 

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places to go: pastificio

April 23rd, 2012 | Posted by admin in PLACES TO GO - (0 Comments)

I live near a small town known for its restaurants, nestled between Lake Forest and Highland Park, it’s Highwood.  You will find authentic Italian food as well as other great spots to eat.  My favorite destination is not a place you stay to eat but a wonderful shop that sells homemade sauces, pasta, entrees, desserts and just about the best matzo ball soup around!  This is my go to place for fresh pasta and wonderful sauces for a crowd or just a meal for two.  I cook so I don’t  recommend buying prepared food often but sometimes we run out of time or need a hand when we are serving a large group… this is where I stop.  The quality, freshness and flavors taste like they came from my own kitchen.  The owner Patricia Galli makes you feel welcome and I know she cooks from a special place.  Serving food, cooking is a wonderful gift to those around you and Patricia embodies that warmth and comfort in her dishes and store.

I have served her matzo ball soup and been asked for my recipe on many occasions… well this is my secret.  The matzo balls are beyond fluffy in a wonderful homemade chicken broth.  I’ll add carrots to my pot and serve.  Did I mention the lasagna?  It’s another must, a veggie and meat version.  I cannot leave without buying the veal tortellini and the modenese sauce.  I have served my family this combination and an entire high school and college hockey team.  If you find yourself in Highwood you must stop at Pastificio!  In my conversations with Patricia they are looking to add a rooftop garden so I’ll be back to visit and share my experience.

I highly recommend Pastificio.

 

 

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places to go: chilam balam

April 20th, 2012 | Posted by admin in PLACES TO GO - (0 Comments)

We were looking for a good place to eat after a day of apartment viewing with my younger son.  It was early on a Saturday and we weren’t dressed for any place too fancy.  He suggested Chilam Balam… a place I had heard so much about but could never quite get there early enough as it’s small, very popular and not easy to get into on a Saturday night.  We had perfect timing, arriving around 5:45.  Our only downside was we did not come prepared with spirits as it is BYOB… but we survived.  The atmosphere is warm, with that perfect glow, the lighting dimmed but not too dark.  We tried quite a few items on the menu and enjoyed everything.  I had watched Chuy on Top Chef so I knew he was known for his sauces.  I could have licked each bowl especially the chipotle sauce that was served on the flautas with chicken thighs, rajas and picked cabbage with crema.  The scallops were amazing, take a look!

Every dish had a different sauce… we loved the fried parsley with the spinach creme.  Another favorite, which we did not get a picture of because we devoured it so fast, was the pineapple ricotta strudel with a cilantro pesto and coconut sorbet.  I suggest you visit this great little spot with big flavors.  It has gotten a lot of attention since Top Chef and it was featured on “Check Please”, so bring your favorite drink, relax and enjoy the wait it is well worth it.  They just added new entrees to their menu and I know I’ll have to make another dinner date.

 

 

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places to go: nana

April 18th, 2012 | Posted by admin in PLACES TO GO - (0 Comments)

Saturday morning and no market to shop in yet so next best option… breakfast date with my favorite friend, foodie and market companion.  The place to go is “Nana” local, organic and sustainable food.  I have previously been there for lunch and started my love affair with Nana.  Breakfast did not disappoint.  I had the omelette special with scallions, Meyer lemon and a luscious soft cheese oozing out the sides.  It comes with a thick toasted grainy bread and duck fat roasted potatoes.  Also a side of arugula, and I had to order the spicy slaw.  My friend ordered the fried oyster soup and a side of the truffle macaroni and cheese.  Not only was everything delicious with great flavors and fresh ingredients but the atmosphere was upbeat and fun.  We sat next to a group of great girlfriends who enjoyed the food as much as we did as we shared and discussed our meal choices.  Next stop for Nana will be a dinner date!  I am such a fan of this organic delicious food.  It is worth the trip!

 

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A full cart at one of my favorite garden centers fills my heart.  This is what “Feast & Flowers” is all about for me. It’s a full table, a feast of another kind.

No matter what type of mood I wake up in going to a nursery and seeing beautiful plants makes me smile.  I am energized by the colors, textures and varieties of flowers.  One cart is usually never enough as I shop for clients to pick the perfect plants for their containers.  I suggest the next sunny day you venture out to Gethsemane Garden Center.  They have one of the best selections of perennial, annual and indoor plants around.  If you are a beginner in this arena they have knowledgeable personnel that are very helpful.  Gethsemane is located on Clark St. in Chicago.

This planter is filled with mostly perennial plants that will stand up to the cold spring nights and look beautiful through the end of May.  Delphinium, Columbine, Candy Tuft, Hyacinths, Daffodils, Variegated Ivy, Bellflower, Creeping Phlox, Bergenia, Forget-Me-Nots, Golden Variegated Sweet Flag Grass, Coral Bells, Ranunculus, Stock, Linaria and Forsythia… some annuals mostly perennials a great mix.

Start with a small pot by your entry so you smile as you enter and exit your home.

 

 

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My dear friend, who has not yet given me permission to mention her by name, is my companion in all food matters.  When the season starts for fresh produce and outdoor markets we are ready at the crack of dawn with bags and baskets in hand.  Our senses are inspired by the smell of fresh herbs, the variety of the produce and the creativity of the specialty foods for sale.  Since the weather here north of Chicago feels like the southern coast we needed to venture to a market.  We headed farther north where the weather was a bit warmer… go figure!  “Brass Ball Fruit” and “River Valley Kitchens” were our stops today.  It satisfied our urge for fresh market shopping and we revisited old friends that we will see at the outdoor market soon enough.

 

BRASS BALL FRUIT MARKET – Paddock Lake Salem, WI

Known for their homemade pies and breads.  It is a very small open market store.  The pies were “HOT”, fresh from the oven and too hard to resist.  I will be back for bread, pancake mix, syrup, more fresh produce and of course another pie.

 

 

RIVER VALLEY KITCHENS – Burlington, WI.

We met this vendor at the farmer’s market in Evanston, IL.  They are mushroom farmers and have a selection of mushrooms you don’t find everywhere.  They pickle their mushrooms, make mushroom salsa, mushroom pasta sauce and “Shroomschetta”.  Their 5-cheese Garlic Spread is out of this world.  I use it for pasta sauce, as a dip and love it on burgers!  They have cheeses, homemade scones, fresh eggs, fresh bacon and so much more.  When the markets start I suggest you visit their booth but in the mean time on a lovely Spring day take a ride up to Wisconsin and visit their store.

 

I have included their “Stuffed Mushroom” recipe:

 

INGREDIENTS:
• 1 pound of medium to large mushrooms
• 2 Tablespoon of Olive Oil
• ¼ cup of chopped onion
• 1 small garlic clove minced (I always add another clove)
• 1/3 cup of bread crumbs
• 1 Tablespoon of chopped parsley
• ½ tsp of kosher salt
• 1/8 teaspoon of dried oregano
• Dash of fresh ground black pepper

 

DIRECTIONS:
• Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

• Remove stems from mushrooms, place cap side down in a greased casserole dish.

• Finely chop the stems, heat oil in a skillet over medium heat.

• Add chopped stems, onions and garlic to heated oil.  Saute until lightly browned.

• Combine bread crumbs, parsley salt, pepper and oregano in a large bowl.

• Add sauteed mushroom mixture.

• Stuff mushroom caps and bake for 15-20 minutes or until mushrooms are tender.

 

 

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places to go: a la carte

March 23rd, 2012 | Posted by admin in PLACES TO GO - (0 Comments)
This is a small restaurant/catering/food-on-the-go destination.  Whenever I am near Wilmette I make my way to A La Carte.  The selection is perfect always a variety of salads, sandwiches, dinner entrees and wonderful desserts.  The food is fabulous but so are the people that work there, helpful, happy, and a pleasure to work with.  If you are north on Greenbay Rd… stop in for lunch or a sweet treat.  I had to get a donut muffin.  I love muffins and adore donuts so of course I was hooked as were the other 2 patrons before & after me!

 

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