Wednesday, December 9, 2009
You might also look at his post on the Dill Pickle Coop that just opened in Lincoln Square. Congrats to all the Coop members who have made this project happen! http://dillpicklefoodcoop.org/
Saturday, September 19, 2009
We'd also like to send out a huge thanks to all those restaurants who decided to put their resources toward an important cause and join the Bonanza! They have helped us start what will hopefully become a tradition, supporting and endorsing healthy, eco-friendly and obviously delicious local produce that's available in Chicago. We could not have done it without them.
Thursday, September 10, 2009
Some were semi-traditional sandwiches:
The BLAST (Bacon, Lettuce, Avocado, Shrimp, Tomato)
The Fried Green Option:
Some were veg-friendly:
The TMT (Tempeh, Matche, Tomato):
Some interesting tomato-less (boo!) ones for those who've been victims of blight:
Is That Watermelon?
Plums and Bacon!!
And some did away with the sandwich idea entirely:
Savory BLT Cheddar Pancakes
Here is the full list of results. Enjoy!
Tuesday, September 8, 2009
Damien's segment is available online! Give it a listen here.
Saturday, September 5, 2009
I distinctly recall the very first time I tasted an heirloom tomato. It happened a couple summers ago on Frog Holler organic farm outside of Ann Arbor, Michigan, where occasionally volunteering to help snip salad greens and thin carrots sometimes earned me a free meal. One warm July day, lunch featured a reddish gold, pumpkin-fat heirloom behemoth, fresh from the tomato field. I was taken aback by its incredible shape and color. Though I don’t know the variety of heirloom we ate that day, I remember its perfect balance of tart and sweet flavor, rich juiciness and tender flesh. All the other tomatoes I’d eaten in my life suddenly didn’t compare. I was hooked—but I had no idea why these mysterious heirlooms were so good.
The farmer explained that they were open-pollinated, that is, pollinated by natural means (wind, insects, etc.) and allowed to develop without genetic engineering or controlled modifications. As a result, the daughters of an open pollinated plant are always slightly genetically different from the parent and, naturally, promoting biodiversity. Despite genetic evolution, his hefty fruit had more in common with the tomatoes eaten a hundred years ago than the supermarket kind I’d been eating all my life.
However, heirloom tomatoes do have traits that make them challenging to grow, especially for commercial farmers. For instance, they often take longer to ripen, are more susceptible to blight and disease, are difficult to stake and keep organized in the field, and, once ripe, don’t last very long. Nonetheless, maintaining the correct conditions (and growing heirlooms that are suited to the local climate) makes all the difference for these sensitive fruits, which make up for any difficulties in their exceptional quality and contribution to biodiversity.
Genetically modified tomatoes, the ones found in standard produce sections across America, have been bred to avoid these undesirable traits: they are often smaller than the irregular, bulbous heirlooms, and rarely have any of the beautiful heirloom variation in color. The standard coloring and sizing make them easily recognizable for the supermarket shopper, simplifying their sale. Genetically modified tomatoes are also bred for durability, with thicker skin and harder, drier flesh for easy transportation, avoiding crushing or bruising. Convenient though they may be, these tomatoes are nearly unrecognizable shadows of their ancient ancestors when it comes to taste and texture.
There are some heirloom varieties that have been preserved for many years by preventing cross-pollinating with other varieties. These are the tried and true tastiest, ones that people know and love, and continue growing year after year. I decided to give some of these famous varieties a try, and visited the Green City Market last week to stock up on as many as I could. Thanks to Nichols, Kinnikinnick and Green Acres farms, I conducted a taste test, to see if the differences between heirloom varieties were noticeable to an untrained palate. The results were pretty incredible—each fruit definitely had a specific consistency and flavor. Here they are, for your information and complete with gorgeous photographs by Julia V. Hendrickson!
Cherokee Purple: This dark fatty was tender and juicy, with a subtly sweet, earthy flavor. It’s evidently one of the strongest heirlooms as far as susceptibility to blight and disease. The origins of this variety are indicated by its name—it is said to have been grown and preserved by the Cherokee nation hundreds of years ago. The color is an incredible dusky purple and has that classic heirloom shape. 8-9 in. diameter.
Amish Paste: A weirdly named variety, this bright red fruit was curiously elongated. It was not the best one eaten fresh (which was how I sampled it) but a fellow tomato enthusiast at the GCM said they are great for canning and making sauces. I could definitely see that—the consistency was a little harder than some of the other tomatoes we tried, but the flavor was bright and delicious. 5 in. in length, 3 in. wide.
Green Zebra: True to its name, this tomato is bright green with fair yellow stripes when ripe. It is very juicy, though not as tender as the larger heirlooms we tasted. It has a really bright, lemony flavor (one tester compared it to the taste of kiwi). This is the variety currently being used by chef Mark Mendez in his BLAT (bacon, lettuce, avocado and tomato) sandwich at Carnivale! 3 in. diameter.
Brandywine Pink: This was probably the most beautiful of all the tomatoes in the taste test. It was a fair pink with green tinges on the “shoulders.” Unfortunately, this one wasn’t quite ripe, and didn’t have the flavor I’d hoped for. After reading up on it, I learned that the Brandywines in general are some of the most beloved heirlooms, and the pink seems to be especially popular. It’s said to be one of the oldest Brandywine varieties with a complex, rich and sweet flavor. Make sure it’s pretty soft before you taste it, to be sure that it’s ripe! 7-8 in. diameter.
Nyagous: This was another strangely dark tomato, about the same size and spherical shape of the Green Zebra, but similar in color to the Cherokee Purple. It had a similar flavor to the Purple, but a not as sweet and rich. Apparently, this variety was introduced from Russia several decades ago. There were two Nyagous varieties that we sampled here: the Russian Black and a mysterious, unnamed second one with reddish skin and green striations on the sides. They tasted identical. 3 in. diameter.
Black Cherry: These little cherries were unbelievably delicious. They had an earthy, rich flavor that tended to be sour, rather than sweet. About the size of an average cherry tomato, they would be incredibly good in any salad. 1 in. diameter.
Red Pear: These were the most precious tomatoes I’d ever seen. They looked like little gnomes, perfectly pear-shaped and leaning against each other for the pictures we took. They were sweet and juicy and brightly reddish orange. 1 in. length, .5 in width.
Striped German: This tomato was by far my favorite out of the bunch. It was another thick, juicy monster, with tender flesh and beautiful orange to red color. What shocked me about this tomato, grown by Green Acres farms and affectionately referred to by the sales people as “Mr. Stripey,” was its sweetness. At times, this was more like eating a ripe peach than a tomato. I ended up dismissing the salt, pepper and olive oil with which we’d been sampling the others, and eating it plain. It was delicious. 8-9 in. diameter.
If you don’t get the chance to hit up your local farmer’s market to taste test these guys on your own, attend and participate in the Second Annual TomatoFest Potluck Supper on September 10th at the Honey Coop! Click here for details on this lovely, family-friendly event!
The Amish Paste
The Brandywine Pink
The Green Zebra and Black Cherries
The Nyagous variety, with some light mozzarella and homegrown basil.
A beautiful assortment (clockwise from bottom left): Brandywine Pink, Cherokee Purple, Striped German, Black Cherries, Big Beef, Green Zebra, Nyagous, and the little Red Pears!
Monday, August 24, 2009
Here it is, two perfectly toasted pieces of bread with homemade herb aioli, crispy organic pork belly, two thick slabs of heirloom tomato and a little heap of unbelievably fresh herbs (basil, parsley and chives, I think) on top. The flavors complemented each other so perfectly-- the richness of the pork belly and the aioli was well balanced with the bright, fresh tomatoes and herbs. It was exactly what I was hoping for on a nice summer night!
My first bite.. carefully including every ingredient! (Those are their sweet potato fries in the background, served with goat cheese fondue-- also worth a taste.)
I'm a proud member of the BLT clean plate club.
This BLT app. is available for $10 on the dinner menu at Uncommon Ground. It is very good-- especially when paired with one of their unique cocktails, like the zippy Palmer on the Porch (Ginger-infused vodka, flowering fruit iced tea and lemonade). Check it out!
Where: Chicago HoneyCoop, 3740 W. Fillmore
When: September 10th
Tickets: $10 for HoneyCoop or Slow Food Chicago members, $15 for non-members. They can be purchased here. (All proceeds will benefit Slow Food Chicago.) Children under 10 get in free!
Sunday, August 23, 2009
Imagine my delight when at the end of Friday's market Jenny asked what I'd like to take home for myself, and then proceeded to fill a massive box with onions, fennel, peppers, a melon, leeks and some of her Amish neighbor's pickles. In the few moments that Jenny's generous hands needed to fill the box, my Saturday plans crystallized in my mind. It's time to make a Tomato Sauce to freeze for the coming winter.
Tomato - Fennel Sauce,
featuring organic onion and fennel from Harvest Moon and tomatoes from my garden.
The juice and seeds are seperated to control the level of liquid in the sauce.
Fennel seed, fresh from a plant outside. At this stage, they are full of bright flavor and will add some nice oils to the base of the sauce.
We roasted the flesh of the tomatoes on a bed of fennel fronds. I am not convinced that this adds lots of flavor, but it keeps the fruit off the hot pan, making for easier extraction. Plus, it's beautiful and it smells good.
Did I mention that it smells good?
The juice from the tomatoes is strained and poured into the caramelized onions.
Friday, August 21, 2009
Thursday, August 20, 2009
A tour of the kitchen revealed 200 lbs of local tomatoes:
Including these beauties:
As I left, Chef Mendez said he was psyched to be part of the event because "I am a freak about tomatoes". Holding a box of Klug Farm blackberries, which he identified as being "ridunkulous" he added "Well, I am a freak about a lot of things". Indeed. Thanks for a great addition to the lunch time offerings of our Old School Blt Bonanza.
Wednesday, August 19, 2009
Tuesday, August 18, 2009
I, for one, cannot wait to try these treats out. Congratulations to Chef Grueneberg: creator of the BLT Bonanza double feature!
Monday, August 17, 2009
Thanks to everyone who submitted posters!
Look for "The Plant" at restaurants participating in our Old School BLT Bonanza!
Beginning today and going until September 20th, some of the best area restaurants are featuring Old School BLT's. Snap a picture of your favorite and you might win a free bottle of wine from Candid Wines and The Green Grocer Chicago! We are giving away 1 bottle to the first person who tweets a picture of an Old School BLT, and another chosen at random at the end of the week. Get moving!
Need a high class, but affordable business lunch? Head over to Blackbird for a sandwich at the bar from Executive Chef Mike Sheerin. It will be cheaper than you think, but just as good as you hope. Want to enjoy great views of the city? Take the elevator up to Sixteen in the Trump Tower for Chef Frank Brunacci's sandwich, or go all the way up to The Signature Room at the 95th in the Hancock Tower for Chef Patrick Sheerin's take. (Chef Pat and Chef Mike are brothers, our only fraternal pairing). Need a few sandwiches for an office party? Green Grocer Chicago is offering City Provisions' Old School BLT's to go, and the list goes on, including Cafe Spiaggia, Carnivale, Webster's Wine Bar, Osteria Via Stato, The Gage, Publican, Avec, Socca, Lockwood, and more coming soon.
We want to know what you are eating and where, and we'll give one luck winner a bottle of wine. Simply photograph your Old School BLT at one of the participating restaurants and Tweet, mentioning the farm that grew the tomatoes, the restaurant, and @tomatofest. One winner will be chosen at random on Friday afternoon, and you can select any bottle of Candid Wines currently in stock at the Green Grocer Chicago!
Sunday, August 16, 2009
To celebrate, Damien has cleverly offered a bottle of some excellent wine from Candid Wines to one lucky winner of the BLT TwitPic contest. Simply visit one of the participating restaurants, order that BLT, snap a photo of it from your trusty camera phone and tweet it with "@tomatofest" in your text. The winner will be chosen at random.
Looking forward to seeing you all enjoying those tasty sandwiches!
Friday, August 14, 2009
Our first finalist is a collaboration between Chicago based artists Emily Szopa and Paul Slayton. There is something about the bright colors and folksy feel they have evoked that seems to scream "grow something!"
Finalist # 1 : The Plant
Our second finalist is from freelance artist Debi Nafis (http://www.debinafis.com/). Look carefully at this one. We found it creative and rich in texture, and we loved the subtle inclusion of the Chicago skyline. Well played!
Finalist # 2 : The Sandwich
So what do you think? Please tell us quickly as we are deciding by Sunday, August 14th at noon.
Thursday, August 13, 2009
Welcome aboard Chicago TomatoFest, Chef!
Sunday, August 9, 2009
We invite you, local design student/art enthusiast/amateur photoshop whiz, to create our official Old School BLT Bonanza poster. The winning poster will be put up in some of the finest restaurants around the city to indicate their participation in this event. The winning designer will have their name on the press release and opportunities for future freelance jobs, too.
It is important to the participating restaurants that the poster looks clean and sophisticated. Chicago TomatoFest would like it to evoke fresh food, health, sun, summertime, sustainable/local agriculture and the space of Chicago. Please read our mission statement for a better idea of our perspective!
The logos of our partners, Slow Food Chicago and WBEZ's sister station Vocalo should also be incorporated into the design as well. Vocalo is more liberal with the use of their logo, so it can be adapted for the poster, but Slow Food has asked us not to change theirs at all. The logos are:
The Vocalo representation can just be the :V part of the logo.
Posters must be submitted in PDF format and emailed to email@example.com by Friday August 14!
Text that must be included:
Chicago TomatoFest’s Old School BLT Bonanza
This restaurant is a proud participant in Chicago Tomatofest’s Old School BLT Bonanza, Slow Food Chicago’s celebration of heirloom tomatoes and the people who grow, cook and eat them. Check the menu for a unique variation on the classic American BLT, featuring produce from farms near you.
August 17th-September 20th
For more information, including a list of other fine restaurants participating, please visit:
Friday, August 7, 2009
Thursday, August 6, 2009
We can't wait to see which farms he'll use, which varieites of heirlooms he favors, and of course, what he'll create as a BLT.
Chef Foss has a wonderful blog over at : http://thepickledtongue.com/ Check him out! The restaurant is here: http://www.lockwoodrestaurant.com/chefs_ourchef.aspx
The Old School BLT Bonanza
August 17th to September 20th 2009
In conjunction with the Chicago TomatoFest, we are seeking Chicagoland restaurateurs who will present their own unique take on the classic BLT sandwich, featuring Heirloom and Ark Varieties of tomatoes and pigs, if the chef chooses to use Bacon. Our restaurant partners will agree to promote the local farmers and the varieties they grow in an effort to increase the general public’s awareness of the local bounty we enjoy here in Illinois. To participate, sign this pledge:
The Chef’s Pledge:
From August 17th to September 20th, the height of the 2009 local tomato season, my restaurant will serve our take on the BLT Sandwich as part of Chicago TomatoFest's BLT Bonanza. I agree to the following:
1) I will feature locally grown heirloom tomatoes in my BLT. My staff and I will communicate to our customers the names of the varieties we have selected and the farmer or farmers who grow them. If I do not have enough local heirlooms, I will not offer the special.
2) If I decide to use bacon in my BLT, I will use locally grown pork, ideally from a heritage and / or Slow Food Ark of Taste breed. My staff and I will communicate to our customers the variety we have selected and the farmer or farmers who grew the pork we will serve.
3) If and when I am contacted by local media, I will do my best to explain the meaning of heirlooms and to promote the local farmers from whom I am buying the ingredients for my BLT.
Chef’s Name: _________________ Restaurant (s) Name (s): __________________________________
In recognition of restaurants’ efforts, Chicago TomatoFest’s Sponsors, Slow Food Chicago, Candid Wines, and The Chicago Honey Coop, agree in turn to promote the event and the participating restaurants through all relevant media channels, increasing exposure and supporting Chicago area chefs who agree to “The Chef’s Pledge”.
Wednesday, August 5, 2009
Tickets are only $35, and part of the proceeds will benefit Slow Food Chicago! This will be a great evening with wonderful food and interesting discussion, so contact Osteria Via Stato's Events Manager Allison Galese at 312-642-8450 for reservations, or go here for more information.
This event sold out in 48 hours! Stop by Osteria Via Stato for a taste of their Old School BLT's. From the OSV website:
Pizzeria Via Stato is a proud participant of the 1st Annual Slow Food Chicago Tomato Fest and Candid Wines Old School BLT Bonanza.
Here's Executive Chef David DiGregorio's version of the classic
BLT: SLAGEL FARM HICKORY SMOKED BACON, FRESH ARUGULA & SPRING VALLEY HEIRLOOM TOMATOES with HOUSEMADE PESTO MAYO $8.95
Chef David also suggest a glass of Seedling Farm Hard Cider ($7.00) as a perfect pairing.
(BLT Bonanza is for lunch only & only available while locally grown heirlooms are ripe!)
More details on purchasing tickets to follow shortly.
Friday, July 31, 2009
Wednesday, July 29, 2009
Chicago TomatoFest celebrates the arrival of locally grown heirloom tomatoes with an annual potluck and, for the first time in 2009, The Old School BLT Bonanza. The city’s best chefs will promote local farmers by reinterpreting this American classic and making these summery creations available on their respective menus from August 17th to September 20th.
Restaurants participating in The Old School BLT Bonanza will sign a two-part pledge, promising to: a) use local heirlooms and (should they choose to use bacon) locally and sustainably raised pork, and b) publicly promote the farmers from whom they sourced these ingredients.
Chicago TomatoFest believes that a rising tide lifts all ships, especially when it comes to preserving our local food supply. We aim to:
1) Encourage individuals to plant their own food through our heirloom plant sale.
2) Create an annual event that will provide a sustainable market for heirloom varieties, encouraging more local farmers to plant them.
3) Facilitate relationships between farmers and restaurants to improve the accessibility of local products.
4) Promote biodiversity.
5) Generate media/public interest in heirlooms and other endangered tomato varieties on the Slow Food Ark of Taste by exposing Chicagoans to their unbeatable quality.
6) Promote Chicagoland restaurants that commit to our BLT pledge by buying from and endorsing local farms.
Friday, July 3, 2009
Take a look around Mr. BrownThumb's site. He has unearthed some of the more interesting gardeners in Chicagoland and is a great source for information. For example, he followed my post with great info of staking tomato plants. He also has a flickr pool set up for Chicago Garden pics.
Monday, June 22, 2009
These are for you, Gina. You may have to look close to see the detail, but there are three little bug eating, soil tilling, seed distributing, poop leaving birds in this picture.
Friday, June 19, 2009
Wednesday, June 17, 2009
My suggestion to Seth is that he bring the level of the soil up to the top of the pot. The small leaves at the base can be stripped, and the small "hairs" at the base of the plant will grow into roots over the summer. I would look for a mix of potting soil and organic compost to give the plant a good slow feed.
I also encouraged Seth to consider planting either some herbs - basil, oregano or thyme - as companions, or perhaps a few carrots. It seems odd to grow carrots in a pot, but they really seem to love Tomatoes. (A fact I learned from a book on companion planting entitles "Carrots Love Tomatoes"). We tried it last year and had hands down the best carrot crop we ever have grown.
Whist I am doing some encouraging, I encourage you to go check out http://www.baconfestchicago.com/ and to follow Seth on Twitter: @baconfestchi
Earlier today, Seth and I had a very productive lunch meeting at Hot Doug's, and I don't say that only because we both enjoyed a Foie Gras and Sauternes dog. The Chicago BaconFest team is going to be a huge ally in the spreading of love for heirloom tomatoes and heritage breed pigs come the fall.
R to L - Seth Zurer, Hot Doug himself, Damien Casten
Tuesday, June 16, 2009
Monday, June 15, 2009
This might be the best new addtion to the garden this year.