Saturday, December 19, 2009

Heritage Prairie Farms

Nate Sumner, California Culinary Academy Alumni, which is part of the Le Cordon Bleu North America system, was the guest speaker for the final In-Service Faculty Meeting of 2009. Nate is Assistant Farm Manager for Heritage Prairie Farms, an organic agricultural enterprise 2 miles west of Randall Rd on Roosevelt, in the eastern part of Elburn, IL. Nate brought with him samples of microgreens still being harvested late this time of the year in covered but unheated grreenhouses. He also talked about other varieties of greens still on the farm that are getting sweeter as the weather gets colder.

Nate started his first garden on the roof top of his Wheaton apartment, and now manages acres of land that supply vegetables to some of the top ranked Chicago restaurants including Alinea and the Chicago Marriott. He explains that he is able to connect with some of the top chefs because of his kitchen background and ability to speak and understand their language. He pointed out that each of these chefs have specific requirements for the produce for their restaurants and the economics and dynamics of satisfying each and everyone of them.

And would you actually think I will let him go without asking the ever important question of bringing students for a field trip and possible taste tasting of heirloom tomatoes, and possible getting some of their extra seedlings? Wait til the summer of 2010.

Saturday, December 05, 2009

Gingerbread House Recipe

Gingerbread Dough
28 ozs bread flour
2 tbsps cinnamon
2 tsps ginger
1 tsp cloves
1 tsp nutmeg
(if you want your gingerbread lighter in color, reduce spices)
1 tsp salt
8 ozs corn syrup
8 ozs molasses
(if you want it lighter, reduce molasses, increase corn syrup)
10 ozs brown sugar
8 ozs shortening
(if you are making cookies, you can substitute butter)

Combine corn syrup, molasses, brown sugar and shortening in a sauce pot, and warm just until the shortening is melted. Transfer warm liquid into a mixing bowl, and with a paddle, mix in dry ingredients. Mix until well blended. Pour dough into a parchment lined sheet pan or silpat. Cool for several minutes, sheet out to about ¼ inch thick, sometimes thicker, depending on your structure. Chill in the refrigerator overnight. (Tip: after cutting your templates, you can bake your pieces halfway, pull them out of the oven, re cut the pieces using the original templates. This will insure that your sides are all straight and lined up)

Friday, December 04, 2009

White House Gingerbread

Channel 5 called it magnificent.....Kathy Brock of Channel 7 said she had made gingerbread in the past, but nothing like was soooo cool that our gingerbread made it to the Prime time news channels here in Chicago.

The house took 10 days to build. I started the construction by mixing, with the help of some students, the gingerbread, I figured, I will leave it out all weekend to dry after rolling them out in sheets. The same weekend, I drew the templates from gift wrap paper, it took all of 2 days to measure and cut the templates. As soon as I got back to school that Monday, I cut the templates with Dan's and laRissa's help, and also organzed my volunteers into making wreaths from Lifesavers, Topiaries from lollipops, evergreens from tuile dough, poinsettias from royal icing, trees from tempered chocolate. people from marzipan...George from Engineering went to Home Depot to get the boards. Cutting was a little tedious. We baked the gingerbreads halfway, took them out and trimmed them exactly to the size of the templates so all the pieces will fit like a puzzle. After baking, we covered all the pieces with rolled fondant and poured isomalt in all the windows for the glass effect. Then, we assembled. We also used isomalt for glue, and made sure it was quite thick to hold the house together. We have to drive about 8 miles to the museum.

We did the assembly in stages as I was teaching 2 classes and only had several hours after classes before my feet started giving up on me. Oh, and by the way, there was the holiday weekend in between, so I kind of took a few days off for cooking our turkey and Black Friday shopping.

The week after the Holiday weekend, we concentrated on finishing.....roofs went up, covered with fondant, windows were trimmed, lights were installed...a lot of work. We finally took the house to the museum all in one piece in a rented van. We did all landscaping on sight. I talked to Angie, our purchasing manager, no matter how much you work, your vision is only in your head or on paper, you never really know if the colors and textures will work, or if it will hold up. At about 5:30 pm Thursday, we were done......and it was sooo cool.. we made everything come to life..

Today was the unveiling and everybody was so proud.