Monday, July 26, 2010

Times, they are changing....

If you are wondering why we have been so quiet lately, well, we have been working on our redesigned logo, toured the Midwest to bring you new, exciting products made right here in the agricultural belt of the US and were busy setting up our new website, updating over 30 seasonal recipes that are easy to prepare and very yummy. So please excuse our lack of communication over the past months. We are now back in full force, although we have migrated to our new blog on our updated website

We would be happy to see you there!!


PS. To receive convenient updates on our blog, new recipes etc. you can either follow us on Twitter (ScrumptPantry) or on Facebook!

Friday, May 14, 2010

I am an urban farmer now (well, almost)

Although I am far from being militant, I do feel that our society is fighting a battle on the nutritional front, so I love the idea of reviving Victory Gardens and bringing vegetable gardens into city neighborhoods. The Peterson Garden Project is a Chicago community garden on the site of a WW2 Victory Garden, and it is opening its grounds to 140 happy gardeners the beginning of June.

I have been happy as a clam since I secured my plot a couple of weeks ago and started a crash course in vegetable gardening in Chicago’s climate & growing conditions– the corner of Peterson & Western is not really the ideal spot to be growing grapes. Plus, I would like to see (eat!) the fruit of my labor sooner than in 20+ years.

Lucky me I know Vera. She is an amazingly talented Michigan Farmer who not only grows the most beautiful veggies on Videnovich Farms, but also hand spins her sheeps’ wool & dyes the yarn with natural colors using flowers she grows herself! And although she has a ton going on at her farm right now, she was patient enough to point me in the right direction regarding veggies to grow and to introduce me to the method of Square Foot Gardening. Totally fascinating concept. I cannot wait to get digging, thus you can imagine my joy when my seed orders arrived in the mail today.

As I believe in the Slow Food saying “Eat it to save it” I was determined to order as many rare heirloom varieties I could get my hands on (well, and that I could reasonably grow in 24square feet and a short growing season). My point of reference was the Seed Savers Exchange, a non-profit focused on preserving our rich agricultural heritage. Members have access to a catalog of more than 25,000 seed varieties… 25,000! I was like a kid in a candy store. Click, click, clickclick: one packet of seeds after the other ended up in my shopping cart. Starting with kale, spinach and chard, I also got some herbs – I found Genovese basil with them, which is THE variety for pesto, so that is exciting. Although I am not a great lettuce eater or lover of radishes, I bought some seeds for those, too, cause I figure I need to make the most of my plot and they grow pretty fast. After all, I should be eating the way the land feeds me, right? So I guess I better start liking salads…

Not all seeds available at the Seed Savers Exchange were available as certified organic varieties, which is what I had set my mind on, so I went to for carrots, turnips and some yellow beets with California based Seeds of Change. They complement each other splendidly! I spent a lot of time today studying my seed packets, storing them in the fridge, going back to look at them, storing them, glancing at the pictures one more time… you get the idea.

Two more weeks in which the beds of the garden will be prepared and then those seeds will be gingerly placed in the soil and do their part of bringing the Peterson Garden to life!

Further reference:

Peterson Garden Project
Videnovich Farms
Seed Saver Exchange
Seeds of Change

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Day 59 - Value Eating on 05/11/2010

Today was one of my hungry days. I started the day with a happy sunny side up (.33) with a sprinkle of Roberta’s Roasting & Grilling salt (.05) on a slice of home baked chive potato bread (.25). Very yummy.

Lunch was two slices of bread (.5) with a serving of …. Chili! Still some left. Luckily I like it a lot, cause I will be eating it another couple of days. That is the challenge you face when buying your meat with small farmers at the farmer’s market: it comes frozen, so once you unfreeze it you have to eat it. If it were fresh, leftovers could be frozen, but as I am frozen meat to cook with, re-freezing is a no go. Maybe I should just invite a bunch of people over to share a meal and a good laugh!? One serving of the chili is actually 1.59$, there is just much more in that pot than five servings only! 2.06$ for lunch. An espresso followed in the afternoon for .4$

For dinner I started out with some cheese nibbles from artisan cheeses I had bought in Wisconsin (.6) with a biodynamic pear from Argentina (yep, forgive me, but no real seasonal fruit yet! .7). After a couple of hours I was a bit hungry again and followed Michael Pollan’s brilliant food rule: all junk food is ok if cooked from scratch at home: an organic potato (.3) sliced thinly and pan fried in some good Extra Virgin Olive Oil from Cosimo and a pinch of Roberta’s Roasting & Grilling Salt (.45) were just what I wanted, together with a cup of organic Castle Rock milk (.4)

Total Food Cost for Today: 6.42$

Day 58 - Value Eating on 05/10/2010

So, brunch today was a leftover frittata, using some of Carlo’s delicious pasta, two happy eggs and a teaspoon of Roberta’s Sun-dried Tomato Spread – all whipped together and briefly cooked in a frying pan (when making fritatta, just make sure to let it rise slowly over low heat. Do not stir. You do not scrambled egg – it only get’s hard that way and looses its taste!). 1.46$

For late lunch I finished off one more serving of my chili & rice: 2.09$ and enjoyed a cup of herbal tea (.15$).

For dinner, I munched on the second leftover bunch of celery sticks and a small multigrain roll from Cook au Vin (1$). At this point my fridge is almost empty (two more beets to go!!!) and ready for the start of the Farmer’s market season 2010! Whoaa!

Total Food Cost for Today: 4.7$

Monday, May 10, 2010

Day 57 - Value Eating on 05/09/2010

Bfash was an organic grapefruit – two more oranges to go and my citrus is cleaned out – horrah for strawberries!! (0.9$) and green tea (0.15$), lunch was chili & rice (3$) and dinner was a pretzel roll w. cheese (0.80$) and an organic beet (two more to go, 0.5$) and some shopped up organic celery stems (0.8$).
At this point my fridge is almost empty and I have started to tackle my freezer as well. I actually feel as if I have accomplished something!

The Farmer’s Market season has started in Chicagoland, and I am very excited! Looking forward to Tuesdays – will be my first market visit of the season, as I skipped yesterda’s Saturday market kick off in Evanston. I just hope that the recent drop in temperature will not affect Midwest farmers to much. No, that was put wrong: it has already affected farmer’s in the Midwest, especially fruit growers in Michigan have suffered losses already – a warm April and frost in May is not a good combination. So let’s hope that this bumpy start into the 2010 growing season has exhausted what nature has in store for farmer’s this year – for an abundant crop for everyone to enjoy!

Total Food Cost for Today: 6.15$

Day 56 - Value Eating on 05/08/2010

I woke up today and was not feeling too great. The hectic pace of the last weeks was getting to me, as did the temperature change… not good to be cold when on a bike! So I assigned myself to my bed and some hearty food that was to warm me from the inside, too. I strongly believe in the ying & yang concept of foods. And I totally and absolutely am a cold person needing hot food. So I prepared a huge pot of chilli to munch on over the weekend (and days to come) and cooked some rice, of which I used a cup for breakfast, mixing it with organic raisins, some organic almonds, a tablespoon of local organic honey, an orange and some grated fresh ginger. Very yummy, warm and filling. Cost: 1$ rice, 0.2$ raisins, 0.2$ almonds, 0.6$ orange, 0.15$ honey and 0.1$ ginger = 2.25$

Lunch was a small serving of the chili – one does not really burn a lot of energy sleeping and so I was not really in need of food, but wanted some of the chili peppers (dried chili flakes and a fresh organic Jalpaneo pepper I had bought at the green grocer – did you know that if you want a hot pepper, you should go for the more shriveled ones – you did? Oh well, I learned that yesterday…) Overall I used 1.1$ for onion & jalpaneno pepper, 0.9$ beans, 0.8$ organic canned tomatoes, 0.25$ for other spices (chili flakes, cumin, salt) and 6.50$ for a pound of local pasture fed happy cow ground beef (which I pulled from the freezer in my attempt to clean out that part of the kitchen, too). Total of 9.55$ for approx. five servings – so let’s out the rate at 2$ per serving. I had a small serving and some rice for a total of 2.5$ lunch cost.

For dinner I met friends at a restaurant – a new place that serves Soul Food and live music with it. Dee’s Place was delightful, it was good to get out of bed and enjoy a crispy and not at all greasy fried chicken (and yummy appetizers, sides and pecan pie). 23$ for dinner & entertainment.

Total Food Cost of Today: 27.75$

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Day 55 - Value Eating on 05/07/2010

Today was a hectic and food wise totally screwed up day. I was working a tasting in Evanston until the afternoon and skipped all food till I got home around 4pm for my last serving of leftover soup and a nice piece of the Red Hen baguette with organic butter. I love bread and butter. Which is why I try to keep little of both around. Has not worked too well the last months, cause I really like the salted organic butter you can buy in the US. Butter in Italy was a no-go. Terrible. Inedible. But why would they need to worry about butter if they have such an abundance of great olive oils? They even bake their pastry with olive oil and all cakes I ever baked that way turned out great! My favorite is a sponge cake w. orange juice and orange zest. Terrific. But I guess with it being May now, the recipe for this cake has to wait till winter … Be strong!

Total Food Cost for Today (and I am not proud of today’s screwed up diet): 2.5$

Day 54 - Value Eating on 05/06/2010

For breakfast I enjoyed a nice cup of latte macchiato – double serving of milk with a strong café and an organic orange: 2$, early lunch was another serving of my fridge cleanout soup: 1.5S… and one more serving to go (luckily I froze two smaller servings yesterday… I could have never finished all this soup… but I will get back to it soon, cause part of the fridge cleanout is also a freezer cleanout… some local veggies still in there I froze when there was more of them still around).

For dinner I treated myself to something special: I was in the area of Dirk’s Fish on Clybourn, and he has the best fish ever. And the best seafood salads. So I bought three little portions of three different salads to enjoy over the next couple of days – and with it came a beautiful, crusty Red Hen baguette: today’s share 5$.

Total Food cost of Today: 8.50$

Day 53 - Value Eating on 05/05/2010

For breakfast I continued to finish up the food bought by the friends that had house sitted in my absence. Cause I have huge difficulties throwing food away, I munched on what is the Trader Joe’s version of shredded wheat “frosted maple & brown sugar”. And what is written on the package is what you get: sugar, sugar, sugar. Very sweet, but no wonder if ingredients no. 2 and 3 after “whole wheat” is “sugar” and “brown sugar”… No mentioning of Maple Syrup an an ingredient though (and what is the “frosted maple” supposed to make a reference to??) The cost? Never buy this stuff myself, so let a box be… what, 4$ - assuming 13 servings in the box that comes down to 30cents and 50cents for my lovely organic Castle Rock Creamery milk! And a strong caffe and an orange to offset all that sweetness! 1.1$.

For lunch I dived into my leftover veggies soup – a BIG portion - let’s put that at 2$.

Dinner was simple frittata made out of one egg and a pinch of Roberta’s Roasting & Grilling Salt w. a slice of organic, artisan bread 0.33$ + 0.1$ + 0.1$+ 0.1$ to line the pan with Cosimo’s extra virgin olive oil.

Total Food Cost of Today: 4.53$

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Day 52 - Value Eating on 05/04/2010

Breakfast was my last croissant w. French Lentil Jam- I will never get over the fact that someone invented something as delicious as lentil jam and it took me 35 years to find it. Actually, it took me 33 years to find it, and then another two to open the jar…. That is what you get when you buy food in every occasion… you stuff it in your pantry and stumble upon it years later. Anyways, delicious. Made in France with lentils that are actually a Slow Food Convivium. Better that Nutella, Crème de marron and Peanut butter together. Ridiculously good. Now, honestly, I do not remember how much I paid for a glass of jam two years ago. It was at the Salone del Gusto, the bi-annual Slow Food event in Turin. That is for sure. Funnily enough the price on almost every item was 5 Eur. Want real vanilla from Madagaskar – 5 eur. Dried figs from Tuscany? 5 Eur. A bag of dried beans? 5 Eur. So would you agree that we put the price tag of 5 Eur also on the jam? That would bring my breakfast to 3.40 for croissant & jam, plus 90 cents for my cappuccino.

Lunch was the continuation of my fridge clean out. I just want to get rid off all these root veggies, potatoes, chard, kale, onions – IT IS SPRING NOW! Bring out the asparagus, the rhubarb, the peas…. So I just threw a wild combination of root veggies, potatoes and chard into a pot, briefly sautéed in olive oil and turned it into a soup with a little of Fabio’s & Nicoletta’s Originario Rice from The Scrumptious Pantry. The whole pot holds 7$ of food and from what I have been eating today, I got at least seven portions in that pot. So that would equal 1$ for lunch.

For dinner, the quest to empty my fridge continued. Some chorizo sausage I found after friends that I had lent my place to had left behind, some EVOO, the last of the fresh chives – all over some pasta: 1$ pasta, 0.3$ chorizo (not local, not sustainable, comes in some weird plastic wrap. But cannot convince myself to throw it away. It is some sort of food, somehow. And other people are starving…), 0.25$ EVOO, 0.3$ chives = 1.85$.

Total food cost for today= 7.15$

Day 51 - Value Eating on 05/03/2010

Now, today was scary. I needed to run all up and down Chicago’s Northshore and had planned to be home for a late lunch and skip breakfast, cause it was either sleeping 15 more minutes or preparing a sandwich to take with me on the trip.

Then, at one of my stops en-route, at Sunset Foods in Highland Park, I took a sample bite of the carrot cake that was sitting on display in the bakery. Although I was not hungry before, the moment the sugary cake had been swallowed, my system was screaming for food. Very crazy reaction. So I obeyed to my body calling for sugary treats and bought myself a chocolate double muffin (1.11$). Now comes the scary part. That muffin put me on a level of sugar and energy - I was not even thinking about food for the rest of the day. What a mean piece of cake. I had to force myself to prepare a decent dinner at home, and that fairly late, cause the idea of eating nothing but a double chocolate muffin for a whole day gave me the shivers. Learning: Sunset Food has very yummy baked goods. But be aware that a muffin can be a meal! Share with someone or keep one half for later. Try to stick to that as a general rule when it comes to "snacks"!

For dinner I started my annual spring fridge clean out: half a bunch of organic Red Chard (1.29$), two organic spring onions (0.5$), a tsbp EVOO from Cosimo in The Scrumptious Pantry (0.4$), a hot pepper from the local Mexican store (but neither organic nor local) 0.2$, a tsp of freshly squeezed lime juice (0.3$) and a pinch of Roberta’s Roasting & Grilling Salt (0.3$), all over some pasta (1$) = 3.99$

Total Food Cost for Today 5.10$

Day 50 - Value Eating on 05/02/2010

Breakfast was late, a delicious Croissant from Gerhard’s Patisserie in Lake Forrest with a nice Cappuccino – 3.90$.

For dinner I had planned to stir up some veggies, but I went to check out my new garden plot in the afternoon and ended up going to dinner with a friend in a Serbian diner kind of place she recommended. Delicious Cevapcici. Childhood memories. We had a (then still Yugoslavian) restaurant close to home in Germany, and if the family went out for a treat, we got to choose between Turkish food or Yugoslavian. I loved to go there, cause I would have double portion of Palatschinken with chocolate sauce for lunch, while my Dad had the Cevapcici. Officially. Inofficially, I nibbled enough Cevapcici of his plate that he went home hungry. Anyways, for 6US$ enjoyed dinner in good company, talking about Square Foot Gardening. I am very excited to have my own gardening plot for this season. Although I am pretty sure that it will be hard at times to get to the garden often enough in the hot days of summer – especially as I do not own a car and the plot is 6 miles away. But I am not complaining. I cannot wait to have my first crops - wanting lots of different chilli pepper plants, eggplants, tomatoes, beets, potatoes and some squashes. My goal is to take a decent amount of this year’s harvest into the root cellar in autumn and feed myself with it over the winter. All very exciting!

Excitement came for free, the Food Cost for Today was 9.90$

Day 49 - Value Eating on 05/01/2010

Today was a fruit & veggie day. After all the sampling & trials for the asparagus pasta, I was ready to detox.

Breakfast was 1 banana, 1 organic grapefruit and one organic apple sliced and shopped into a refreshing fruit salad for 1.9$
For lunch I had a big serving of the freshly picked, local & organic arugula salad, tossed with a little of Guido’s Balsamic for 1.5$

Dinner was a mistake. Or not. Better: it was a temptation I could not resist. I had seen a very delicious recipe on the fabulous blog “Lucullian Delights” (see in navigation: Other blogs I like) for potato bread with chives. Turns out I had a bunch of local, organic chives in my fridge, which came in my weekly produce box. Plus, some old organic local yams – testimonies of a winter that finally passed (although Michigan did have frost last week, which unfortunately destroyed some of the fruit already blossoming). So, I was wondering, could potatoes be substituted with yams? How about the starch content? Was it similar? I decided to take the risk, using the Lucullian Delights recipe, adding another cup of organic whole wheat flour and more chives. What can I say. It was delicious. And so was dinner: I almost ate 1 quarter of my bread, slathered with butter. And just to be precise: we are not talking about a small loaf of bunny bread, but a large wheel! The taste of the chives mingled with the slight sweetness the yams brought to the bread. And the dough was perfect. Fluffy, moist – soooo yummy. Baking bread yourself is really not that difficult. The two important things to have are: a) patience – you need to give the dough time to rise. I had it sitting for five hours before baking it; b) make sure you have an oven thermometer, so you can finetune the temperature. The exact temperature is very important for bread baking! So, now how much did this dinner cost me? 1.49$ for organic dry yeast, 1.8$ organic flour, 1.2$ for Cosimo’s EVOO, 0.2$ organic raw cane sugar, 0.6$ for the yams, 0.4$ organic Castle Rock milk, 0.3$ chives = 5.99 for the bread overall. Let me have eaten 1.50$ of it with 0.4$ of butter = 1.90$ and a lot of happiness for dinner.

Total food cost for today: 5.30$

Day 48 - Value Eating on 04/30/2010

It was runny egg yolk w. asparagus recipe development day today. So my food intake consisted of exactly that: two large ravioli, some asparagus nibbled raw, some pieces of trial pasta… overall I spend 4.64$ on my two giant ravioli

Asparagus: 1.5$
Ricotta: 1$
Two eggs: 0.66$
EVOO: 0.45$
Flour: 0.30$
One more eggs: 0.33$
Roasting & Grilling salt: 0.1$
Balsamic: 0.3$

Add an apple and a little yoghurt for a Total Food Cost of 6$

Friday, April 30, 2010


Now that asparagus has even hit the farmstands in the Midwest, how about a scrumptious celebration of Spring, with some easy to prepare home-made ravioli.
No need to be afraid of the term “home-made pasta” – it is much less difficult that it sounds and you do not need a pasta machine either. Just some elbow grease to roll out that dough!

The following recipe is the result of several trials (varying the preparation if the asparagus for the best asparagus taste!), which I photographed step by step for easier instructions. Of course, this final version saw the camera break down. So, you have to imagine the pictures! But I figured I better share the recipe now, than wait for my new camera to come around! You wanna enjoy that asparagus ravioli while you can!

Why this one is called runny egg yolk ravioli, well, that is the beauty of this dish: you form a crater of your filling (in our case ricotta and asparagus) on a sheet of pasta dough, and nestle an egg yolk inside. As the fresh pasta cooks really quick (about three minutes), your ravioli will contain a warmed, but still runny egg yolk, perfecting the taste of the asparagus!

For the pasta dough (makes ca. six –eight large ravioli)
1.5 cups pastry flour
2 eggs
2 tbsp. Cosimo’s Extra Virgin Olive Oil (from The Scrumptious Pantry)

Method: (forgive me that I believe in working dough with your hands will get better results!) 1.) Mount the flour on an even surface, forming a crater inside, 2.) Whisk the two eggs and 1 tbsp. of Cosimo’s EVOO, 3.) Put liquid in the crater and start mixing in the flour using a fork, 4.) Knead the dough for about five minutes, adding some more EVOO if necessary. 5.) Set aside to rest in refrigerator

For the filling
1 bunch green asparagus (ca. 15 stalks)
1 cup fresh ricotta (if you can get sheep ricotta that is grand, but cow’s milk works just as well!)
2 tsp. of Roberta’s Herbed All-Purpose Salt (from The Scrumptious Pantry)
2 tbsp. of Cosimo’s EVOO (from The Scrumptious Pantry)
six egg yolks
four egg whites
1 tbsp. of Guido’s Balsamic Dressing Sauce (from The Scrumptious Pantry)

1.) Cook asparagus in boiling water until tender. Do not throw out the water afterwards – you want to cook the ravioli in it! 2) Mix ricotta, asparagus, herbed salt and EVOO quickly in a food processor. 3) Separate the eggs, as you want four of the whites to go into your filling! “park” the yolks separately in espresso cups. 4) Beat egg white till stiff and slowly mix with ricotta filling. 5) Add in a tablespoon of Guido’s Balsamic for little more complexity.

At this point you are ready to roll – literally. Roll out the dough thinly and cut into pasta sheets 4 inches high and 8 inches wide (you are gonna flip them over!). You should have somewhere between 6 and eight pasta sheets. I personally prefer smaller ravioli over lager ones, but feel free to make them in any size you want. Just be reminded that the size of the ravioli will increase in the pot – fresh pasta dough does that.

Put two tablespoons of the filling onto each sheet, forming a crater in the middle. Put egg yolk into crater. Flip over pasta sheet and firmly press edges together (attention! It is not a Danish Pastry, you do not want thick sides!).

Gently place in the boiling water and let cook for about two to three minutes. Serve with a drizzle of Cosimo’s EVVO and a sprinkle of freshly ground pepper.

Enjoy spring!

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Day 47 - Value Eating on 04/29/2010

Gosh. How long was I off air? Mamma mia, time flies… in contrast to that ash cloud that hung over Europe and turned a quick visit to Europe’s bigges wine event – VinItaly – in a three weeks stay. Now I am back in the US and back to Value Eating.

And the best part: the month was all it took to go from beets to asparagus. How cool is that!

So today I indulged in half a bunch of fresh asparagus (1.5$) and fingerling potatoes (0.5$) , drizzled with Cosimo’s Extra Virgin Olive Oil (0.45$) – heaven! If I had to choose a preferred vegetable, it would surely be asparagus. The green one that is…. Yumm, a perfect dinner! Spring in every bite!

For brunch I had an organic green smoothie made of rainbow chard (1.50$), a banana (40c) and an apple (30c).

My afternoon snack were one of Nicoletta’s & Giovanna’s Brutti ma Buoni cookies from The Scrumptious Pantry (1.5$), dipped into a strong, black espresso (Dancing Goat, yep!, 0.50$)

Total food cost for today: 7.60$

Tomorrow I will experiment with the second half of the asparagus, fresh ricotta and homemade pasta for a runny egg tortellone. Fingers' crossed!

Friday, April 2, 2010

Day 46 - Value Eating on 03/30/2010

An early morning phone-call announced lunch meeting at noon. That meant that I skipped breakfast, cause I cannot eat earlier than 10am. I just have the feeling that I need to burn some energy, before I consume more! Which is also why I am not at all a person that eats at certain times. I eat when I am hungry, not when the clock indicates a certain time. Anyways, lunch was great. I had a delicious thin crust pizza at Osteria Via Stato. Their bread is to die for, too. I stuffed my face with it… I needed not only the espresso right after the meal, but another one back home (hello, dancing goat! 40c). I am totally addicted to bread. There is nothing more satisfying than bread.. yep, I am a carbs girl. I admit!

So after all the yummy carbs for lunch (price of which was 18$), dinner was a big salad using all my leftovers in the fridge – tomorrow is Wednesday, so I have the new produce box coming from Green Grocer Chicago. Yeah! ½ bunch of organic, but Californian celery stalks (95c), 2/3 organic (and Californian) cucumber (80c) = 1.75$ plus a cup of herbal tea (27c). It is about time the snow buggers of so we can get fresh local produce again!!! Even if one was content with local root veggies (I would) – there are no more to be found… all eaten. Finshed!!

Total Food Cost For Today = 20.42$

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Day 45 - Value Eating on 03/29/2010

The weekend was all screwed up. I was doing cooking demos all over Chicago and that does not encourage eating. With all the tasting, re-tasting and tasting again, more food is really not needed…. I munched on some fruit and fennel, but that was all. So we will leave this weekend blank.

On Monday, I was on my way of preparing my morning Cappuccino, when I realized that the milk started to be a little off. Now, when that happens, there are two things I usually do: either I have the milk sit outside, go completely sour and then use the cheese to do Polenta dumplings – or I throw some of Fabio’s & Nicoletta’s originario rice from The Scrumptious Pantry into a pot, pour the milk over it and cook rice pudding. Very neat breakfast or lunch. Perfect brunch on this start into the new week. 40c milk + 60c rice + 2c cinnamon + 15c honey + 65c 1 apple, plus an espresso (40c) = 2.22$

For dinner I tossed some leftover pasta (60c) from one of the weekend’s cooking demo with the greens from an organic fennel bulb (50c) and threw the last chunks of blue cheese in there (31c). Whoa, that cheese has been around since mid January.. two months for a piece of cheese… guess it was about time it went… Some Olive Oil to line the pan (25c) = 1.66$

Total Food Cost for today: 3.88$

Day 44 - Value Eating on 03/26/2010

Breakfast: A dancing goat cappuccino and a slice of artisan bread w. yummy honey and an organic apple (50c+12c+15c+65c = 2.42$)

Lunch I tried to keep away from, cause I had a big dinner coming up… I enjoyed one of the herbal teas I had bought at the Empty Bottle Farmer’s Markt – 27c.

Dinner was in a Chinese restaurant that advertises as being a more “real” than the classical American incarnations of Chinese food. Well, I had the pleasure to have lived in China and they do not deep fry all their food to death… but dinner was fun anyhow, sharing food with a crowd of friends is always nice. 15$

Total Food Cost for Today: 17.69$

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Day 43 - Value Eating on 03/25/2010

Today was the day of drinking out – coffee that is. I went to Wisconsin to meet with a group of incredible talented people to discuss a potential future collaboration. Four hours driving both ways meat I needed to get up early. Which meant that after 100 miles I needed some coffee. Now, I wish I would have a thermos for these occasions, so I can bring my own. Other than for food, I have not yet thought about that, but after today, I will certainly change that (I brought the other half of the “polenta lasagne” for lunch and that was great, cause just looking at the food available at the gas stations along the way made me feel a slight nausea. Anyways, I got my green mermaid worth of milk drink and made it to Iowa County w/o falling asleep (3.70$). I had another espresso at a small café/bookstore/food store in Mineral Point (the cutest town and a great store, too – Set in Stone is it’s name! 2.05$)

For food, I had leveraged on the fact that there was one last banana left from last week’s produce box and that this week’s included rainbow chard. Yeah, you are right – a green smoothie breakfast! I was curious to see if I would feel as hungry again shortly afterwards, but I figured that sitting in the car and not moving it might be a good opportunity to give the green smoothie his last fair chance. I added an apple and it was fine. Tasted fine and I was not overly hungry (at least not for the first 100 miles, hence ca. 1.5 hours – that is when I had the so called “cappuccino” which in this country contains enough mik to qualify as dinner!) apple 65c, banana 39c, chard 1.25$ = 2.29$

1.99$ for my lunch (the second serving of the polenta lasagne) and 99c for two organic tangerines in the afternoon = 2.98$
On my way back from Wisconsin I decided to take a nap in a rest area rather than spend more money on coffee… Luckily I am one of those people that can sleep everywhere, anywhere!

Back home I dived into my fridge to clear out all the veggies that were from last week and threw them together for a big salat: three turnips, 1/3 cucumber, 3 small radishes, a couple of celery stalks. Finished off with juice of ½ lemon (Tot 2.5$). Went with a sandwich of two slices of artisan bread (24c) and my imported camembert (35c)

To wind down before going to bed I prepared myself a tea I had bought at least weeks Farmer’s market from a little company called …. A herbal tea supposed to relax. It freaked me out at first, cause it smells EXACTLY like CREST TOOTHPASTE! I never ever had smelled that exact smell before anywhere else but in a squeezable tube that contained toothpaste. If there was a smell in this world I had connected with artifical, it was crest. Guess I was wrong. Looking forward to meet the owner of the company soon again at another market, I wanna know what that herb is!! 27c

Total Food Cost for Today: 11.45$

Monday, March 29, 2010

The traditional Easter Feast: Spring Lamb

The traditional Easter dinner in the United States typically revolves around ham, in European it is typically lamb. Spring being a moment in which everyone celebrates the new cycle of nature lamb became the classic Easter meal to celebrate the beginning of spring and the new life (before intensive animal farming, lambs were born in autumn and ready to market in the spring). Plus, the lamb has become a symbol of innocence and has special connotation at the Easter dinner table.

I hope you enjoy this recipe using our Extra Virgin Olive Oil and Roasting&Grilling Salt for a Mediterranean flair!

Spring Lamb with fresh Asparagus

Leg of Lamb
1 (5 pound) leg of lamb
3 cloves garlic, cut into slivers
3 tablespoon Cosimo’s Extra Virgin Olive Oil (from The Scrumptious Pantry)
2 tablespoon Roberta’s Roasting & Grilling Salt (from The Scrumptious Pantry)
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper

Method (1) Preheat oven to 325°F. (2) Puncture the leg of lamb with the tip of a knife just far enough to insert slivers of garlic into the holes. (3) Gently massage 2 tablespoons of olive oil onto meat. (4) Rub salt over the leg of lamb. (5) Place the lamb, fatty side up, on a rack in a shallow roasting pan. (6) Roast uncovered for 2 to 2 1/2 hours in the preheated oven, to an internal temperature of 155°F for medium. (7) Tent with aluminum foil and let stand for 15 to 20 minutes before carving. The lamb will continue to cook a little bit, and the juices will set up better for carving.

To carve the leg of lamb, for stability, (1) place the roast on its side on the cutting board with the shank bone facing away from you. Cut two or three lengthwise slices from the section of the meat facing you. This will allow the meat to sit flat on the cutting board. (2) Turn the roast up so that it sits on the cut area. Hold the roast steady with a long-handled meat fork inserted into the meat opposite the shank bone. Holding the knife perpendicular to the cutting board and starting by the shank bone, cut across the grain into uniform, thin slices. Cut the slices between 1/4- to 1/2-inches thick. (3) When you reach the bone, release the slices by cutting under them along the leg bone. Place slices on a warmed serving platter. (4) Drizzle the lamb with Cosimo’s Extra Virgin Olive Oil. Serve immediately.

1½ pounds fresh green asparagus
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 tablespoon Cosimo’s Extra Virgin Olive Oil (from The Scrumptious Pantry)

Method (1) Fill a large stock pot with cold water, bring to a rolling boil and add one teaspoon of kosher salt. (2) Wash asparagus to remove any dirt and trim ends. (3) Add asparagus to boiling water and cook for 8 to 10 minutes, or until tender. (4) Drain and place on warm serving platter, drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with kosher salt. Serve immediately.

Enjoy a lovely meal with family & friends!

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Day 42 - Value Eating on 03/24/2010

Today was a day of some kitchen experiments. Well, rather a couple of hours in the evening. But it was so much fun! I love playing around with ingredients.

But before I arrived in front of my stove, I had half a Ciabatta bread roll (from Cook au vin, great artisan baker who sells around the Chicago Farmer’s Markets!) w. butter & honey & a glas milk for breakfast = 50c+15c+15c+40 c = 1.20$
And for lunch an organic banana and the other half of the bread with some of my imported Camembert (39c, 50c, 50c) = 1.39$

For dinner I used the leftover of the polenta seasoned with chilli peppers & oregano. I was thinking in the lines of a polenta based veggie lasagne. So I lined the baking pan with 1 Tbsp of Roberta’s intensely sunny tasting sun-dried tomato spread, and then layered polenta (in which I had mixes on egg) – grilled eggplant – polenta – grilled eggplant (the eggplant I had briefly grilled on the griddle pan on the stove). After 20 min in the oven at 450 F, I turned the whole things upside down on a plate and hade two slices of it with a side of salad, the remaining organic romaine lettuce. Very yummy!

As a perfect condiment I used some of the green garlic pesto I had prepared earlier: Vera from Videnovic Farms had brought this green baby garlic to last Saturday’s Farmer’s Market – I passed four bunches through the food processor with ¼ cup of Cosimo’s Extra Virgin Olive Oil and seasoned it with a tsp of Roberta’s Roasting & Grilling Salt. To die for! So yummy! I can totally see me using that as a spread on my sandwiches… I am also thinking a savory crepe with a thin layer of this “garlic pesto” and then filled with minced beef & sautéed chard… sooo many ideas. I love products like that, a food that you smell or taste and then a firework of ideas goes off in your head! So, be prepared – I will be babbling about green garlic pesto for a while!!

Polenta 40c, ½ organic eggplant 64c, 1/2 tbsp Sun Dried Tomato Spread 60c, 1/2 egg 33c romaine lettuce: 35c = 2.22$
Green garlic pesto: 4$ garlic, 1.2$ EVOO, 0.1$ salt = 5.30$ for ca 20 teaspoons. = 27c


Day 41 - Value Eating on 03/23/2010

These days I am not sleeping enough, so the morning I need coffee to get up. Not a good habit at all! So breakfast was my DancingGoat Castle Rock Café latte (50c), two slices of bread (24c) and some honey (30c). Mid-morning snack was an apple (65c).

For lunch I had the final serving of my soup, with a drizzle of Cosimo’s Extra Virgin Olive Oil to finish it off (1.69c).

About mid-afternoon, a vision began to appear before my inner eye and was not going away. It just sat there… wherever I looked: a nice piece of meat! As you will have realized by now, I am not the biggest of meat eaters. But I like my steak once in a while! Or a nice burger. Or lamb chops. Or meat stew. For these occasions, I have my freezer well stocked. Whenever I come across a great product at the Farmer’s Market or some Farm Store, I will by my frozen meat and poultry. Actually I have to admit that there is a little too much meat stored in the freezer compared to the amount I am eating. Like this huge bird that is waiting for me to throw a dinner party for extended family & friends, and possibly also the neighbors! But. Anyways. I have these nice steaks I had bought in Fairbury at the farm of the Kilgus Family. One ended up on my plate, juicy, tasty – the quintessence of great pasture feed meat for 5$. After cooking the meat, I neatly cut off the meat before plating it, cause the bone went into the freezer to used the next time I cook a nice bean soup. As sides I sautéed the greens that were on the organic red beets in my produce box (not local at this point. The first non local beets – but it IS the end of March). How much is the price of the greens? Very good question, cause usually the greens are considered waste and thrown out (very unfortunate habit). I will count it as if it were a beet: 35c. Sauteed in a little olive oil and finished off with a bit of Roberta’s Roasting & Grilling Salt (30c). For carbs I slow cooked some of Nicoletta’s & Fabio’s Polenta, which I seasoned with some hot chillis and oregano (40c) = 6.05$

Total Food Cost for Today: 9.33$

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Day 40 - Value Eating on 03/22/2010

The morning I prepared myself a nice caffe’ latte using one cup of organic milk and preparing some artisan Dancing Goat Espresso in my small Italian mokka that sits on the stove. Thanks to Dancing Goat I have now altered my caffe’ making ritual. If you remember a previous post on the Italians rules on preparing caffe’ – well, those rules work in Italy. They do not work here. I had to go through some frantic moments of heart racing, cause I used as much grind beans as I would have used in Italy. WrongWrongWrong. The Italians roast their coffee beans really dark. The longer the roasting process, the less the caffeine! So now I do not even fill all of the sieve with coffee and it is perfect! 40c milk, 10c coffee beans = 50c.

For lunch I reheated half of what was left of my veggie soup from the day earlier. For variation, I minced up three small green garlic (greens & bulbs) and mixed them (fresh) under the soup. Looked nice and tasted great – a little delicate punch of baby garlic. Again, I ate two slices of bread with the soup (& butter!) = 1.74 c (50c for the baby garlic).

While I was munching on my organic afternoon apple (65 c it is SO great to still be able to find delicious local produce NOW!) For dinner I was called out for dinner with friends who were so kind to invite me, so we are gonna blank on that one!


Day 39 - Value Eating on 03/21/2010

Today I really wanted some warmth – the snow outside was quite discomforting on the second day of spring.
So for brunch I made myself a nice, thick, fluffy German pancake. Two happy eggs (66c), well beaten, ½ cup organic milk (20c), 1/4 cup organic pastry flour (13c), one organic banana (35c) and a tablespoon of local organic honey (20c) = 1.54. I enjoyed a glass of organic milk with it (another 40c)

For dinner I made a nice, thick soup, out of all the different organic veggies stocked in my fridge. I used a small cauliflower, two small yams, one small potato and one small onion. After sautéing the onion with some dried chilli flakes in olive oil, I added the chopped veggies. A couple of cups of water, some cinnamon and some cumin – done. It can be so easy to cook a delicious meal. After 15 min. in which the veggies simmered peacefully on the stove, I passed all of it through the blender real quick, added some more water for a more liquid consistency, toasted two slices of artisan organic bread and happily indulged.

Cauliflower: 1.29, yams & potatoes 30c, onion 25c, olive oil 25c, three different spices 15c = 2.24$ and as I had three meals from this soup, the share of the dinner was 75c soup + 24c bread + 15 c organic butter on my bread = 1.24$
A huge crispy organic apple from a farm in Wisconsin for dessert was 65c


Sunday, March 21, 2010

Day 38 - Value Eating on 03/20/2010

I love Saturdays. Not because it’s necessarily a free day – when you are an entrepreneur, unfortunately your work follows you 24/7. But it is FARMERS’ MARKET DAY! Yeah! At least in the winter months the few markets that are still running are clustered around the Saturday and I love that opportunity to connect with farmers, talk about chickens and cheese, sourdough and frozen pesto. Mmh-mmh!

So the morning started out very unspectacular with an organic banana and two slices of rye bread with homemade fig jam (the jar is almost empty now, saving that last spoonful for a special occasion…sigh…). Cost = 39c+24c+44c= 1.07$

For lunch I bought myself a bacon scone at celestial kitchens’ stand at the Empty Bottle Farmers’ Market. Very tasty – especially cause I was so hungry and had soooo much looked forward to it! My weekend treat for 3$.

For dinner I fixed myself a quick pasta salad. It was the first day of spring (none withstanding the snow on the ground!) and how better celebrate spring and the outdoor parties, bbqs and picnics to come than with a pasta salad. It was a really simple fare, bridging winter and spring with the choice of ingredients: two oven roasted beets, some romaine lettuce, a cup of cooked Conchiglie pasta Carlo brings to The Scrumptious Pantry (BEST shape ever for pasta salads!), a dash of Cosimo’s Extra Virgin Olive Oil and of Roberta’s Roasting & Grilling Salt, some crumbles of fresh goat cheese e voila’… meal served for 2.70$ (1$ pasta, 70c EVOO used on salad &for roasting of beets, 5c salt, 60c two small beets, 35c for romaine lettuce and 20c for cheese).

Total Food Cost for Today: 6.97$

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Day 37 - Value Eating on 03/19/2010

I am so happy being back to eating my way…. Sigh… as much as I love my work, and the traveling and eating out that comes with it – there is nothing better than home cooked meals. Wait, maybe there is – having friends over to share them with!
For late breakfast (ca.10 am) I heated a leftover portion of polenta. I used some Castle Rock Organic milk for creaminess, about ¼ cup. Added one apple and a kiwi. And had a glass of milk to go with it (1.84$ for polenta and 0.4$ for the milk). Gave me all the power I needed to get to the 4pm, when I arrived back home and had the leftover cabbage-fennel-stir fry from yesterday. Which now makes me realize that yesterday’s dinner was actually only half the price – those were the ingredients for two servings (two BIG servings.. but I was so happy to be indulging in fresh, healthy food. And you cannot really overeat on veggies, can you? – 1.15$)

I have to admit though that I had a very decadent snack in between: a pain au chocolat (chocolate croissant) from a small bakery I stumbled upon in Lake Forest (Northern Suburb of Chicago), when I was looking for a fast shot of espresso to keep me awake during the tasting @ Foodstuffs Lake Forest. So I met Gerhard. Well, no, not the man himself, but all the beautiful cakes and pastries, cookies and petit fours he sells at his store. Seems as if Gerhard was Swiss, trained in Switzerland and now living and creating beautiful cakes in Lake Forest! Quite a change of scenery, I would say, but the cakes he presents were absolutely stunning. Looked very much like the “real” stuff one find in Europe. Should I ever get married in Chicago, I surely know where the wedding cake will come from. Until then: indulgence in the form of pain au chocolat and a shot of Italian Espresso (5$).

Dinner was a slice of artisan baked organic multigrain bread (12c), a happy farm fresh organic egg sunny side up (33c) with a sprinkle of black organic pepper (2c) and a small serving of watercress salad (38c) = 80c


Thursday, March 18, 2010

Day 36 - Value Eating on 03/18/2010

Picked up my produce box yesterday @ Green Grocer Chicago. Bananas! Guess it is time to try this blender/food processor some more on the quest for the perfect green smoothie…
My fridge sports kale and watercress, beats and turnips, yams and potatoes, white cabbage… what will go best with bananas & apples? I choose the kale. Chopped it up a bit, before putting it into the blender (the whole bunch, yeah, today is a healthy day!), added a banana and a small apple. Was ok. Nothing to be excited about, but drinkable. As in previous occasions, I started to be hungry really fast. Worse, I felt cold, as if I had no energy….

So 2 hours after my Green Smothie Bfast I was happily chopping veggies at the stove (warmth!) for lunch. I quickly sautéed ¼ white organic local cabbage with 1 small organic fennel (bulb & greens) in some olive oil and A LOT of chili pepper (some more warmth!!) . Enjoyed that with a sprinkle of salt on Fabio’s & Nicoletta’s Fragrance Rice (from The Scrumptious Pantry). Mmmhhh… so much better than the green smoothie. The energy I got from this dish kept me going until 9pm when I started nibbling on a cheese plate and two slices of bread with a glass of biodynamic wine from my friend Franz Loacker’s estate in Montalcino, Italy (where the Brunello comes from. But, no, I was not sipping Brunello all by myself in front of the PC).
Happy me. All healthy, nourishing food today!

Bfast: kale 1.50$, apple small 40c, banana 39c = 2.29$
Lunch: cabbage 35c, fennel small 40c, chili flakes 10c, rice 60c, olive oil 25c= 1.70$ (03/19/10 - correction: these veggies fed me over two servings -1.15$)
Dinner: 2 slices organic artisan bread 24c, nibbles of Wisconsin blue cheese, beer&mustard cheese from the UK and some camembert 2$. 1 glass Loacker Rosso di Montalcino 3.5$ =5.74$


Day 35 - Value Eating on 03/17/2010

Finally back home and at my own mercy when it comes to meals!! Subito, I hit my fridge - and I marvel about the beauty of root veggies. Even after two weeks in my fridge they are still in perfect shape. Even the lettuce is – thanks to having it stored in the lower drawer wrapped in a wet cloth.
My brunch is a feast of a nice warm bowl of Polenta from Fabio & Nicoletta (from The Scrumptious Pantry), an apple and two kiwis (no, the latter are not local. They came in my produce box from the Green Grocer – the neatest neighborhood store selling organic & local food. If there is local food around to have, you bet Cassie Green (no, no family relation) will have it stocked. If there is Kiwis in my box, than that is ‘cause Cassie could not get a hold of the local stuff. And, fairly enough, it is mid-march. Chicago has been eating storage fruit & veggies for six months now. We ran pretty much out of local stuff. Anyways. A drizzle of my favorite sweetener – honey – and I am happy. Gosh, how I have missed a nice, warm breakfast. Why is breakfast at trade shows and on the road always some weird pastry? Great start into the day! Apple (small) 40 c, two kiwis 58 c, polenta 80c, honey 15c = US$ 1.93

For dinner I indulged in greens – you know how you can get a real fresh salad when you are out and about? All the same chopped lettuce. So I had a great bed of organic watercress (75c), grated an organic local beet over that (39c), finished it off with a tablespoon of Guido’s Balsamic Dressing Sauce from The Scrumptious Pantry (50c) and some pumpkin seeds (15c). With that came a nice filet of local (Lake Superior) fish (2$) with a sprinkle of black pepper (0.05c) = US$3.84


Back to Value Eating - Finally!

Finally up back home and to a normal lifestyle. Which means I can prepare my food – and lots of fresh stuff – yeah! Honestly, these two weeks of traveling have really tired me out. I love going to really nice restaurants and I love checking out the street food in places I visit. But between too much coffee at conferences and trade shows and very restricted food choices at the airport, these two weeks were not much fun eating wise.
Two experiences stand out though and I do not want to do them unjustice: The Localicous event at the FamilyFarmed Expo in Chicago was what it says it is: delicious local food prepared by great Chicago restaurants. So many great taste experiences! Thanks to all the farmers & Chefs – and the team of the FamilyFarmedExpo – for their hard work!
Second food memorable food experience was my BBQ beef sandwich off one of these “gourmet eateries” than come on four wheels and are all over Los Angeles. Although I would have never chosen a BBQ beef sandwich without having the truck sitting curbside at the trade show. It was yummy though and the bread was a really perfect crispy baguette. That is when you know you are in good hands. The little details, like in this case the bread. Too bad that trucks like that do not have a liquor license. Lunch or not lunch, a beer would have been great with the sandwich!
What I really wonder about though is: who decided that travelers do not have a right to healthy food at airports? Who manages those concessions? Are they given to the winners of the contest for greasiest, fattiest, most disgusting food? Get local cafes using local ingredients and cooking local snacks into airports! Now, that would be something!

Ok, now finally back to Value Eating!!

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Day 34 - Value Eating on 02/25/2010

Today I wanted to get really serious with the “Green Smoothie” for breakfast. I used about ½ bunch of organic spinach (1$) and an organic apple (75c). Although I added some organic yoghurt for some smoothness (0.15c), I did not particularly like it. Too grassy and not a very pleasant consistency. What’s worse is that I was so hungry after an hour or so. I wonder how important the act of chewing is for us actually feeling full, cause usually I am perfectly fine with some fruit cut into yoghurt for breakfast. Need to research that more.

Anyways, I was on the road and starving. Seriously. So I paid a visit to a Libanese cafe a friend had recommended. I liked the texture and balanced taste of the falafel and the sauces, but it would have been significantly better if the falafel would have been freshly deep-fried, rather than plucked from a mountain of ready made falafel under a heating light. Especially as it was stuffed in a cold pita bread. I prefer a warm bread, hot falafel and cold salad for some contrast and to best present the beautiful flavors of the falafel itself. Oh well. (3.5$)

For dessert at home I gave the “green smoothie” a second try – the spinach & apple had resulted in ca. 3 cups of smoothie, of which I had only managed to drink half. I added a lot more yoghurt, threw in an organic banana that had come with my weekly produce box and finished it all off with a teaspoon of local honey from the farmers’ market (although the banana added some nice texture, it suffered from the “green import syndrome”, which left it pretty tasteless, so the smoothie needed some sweetener). After all these additions, the “green smoothie” was good. But if all green smoothies have to come with bananas by default for texture, I do not think I will be a smoothie girl – at least not as long I do not live in some tropical, banana growing country. The taste of mealy bananas, that were picked tasteless and left to “ripe” in my kitchen does absolutely nothing to me. Anyways. Cost for additions: yoghurt (37c), banana (49c), honey (10c).

For dinner I fixed up a tasty, thick rice based soup. If I had to choose my favorite ever dish, I would say it is thick soups & stews. I had bought some broccoli the week before at the GreenGrocer and saw no chance of eating it all, before it would go bad. So I briefly blanched the broccoli and froze it for future use. I then fried some chili flakes and garlic in a dash of olive oil (0.29), sautéed 1.5 carrots (25c), added ½ cup of Fabio & Nicoletta’s beautiful Originario rice (an heirloom variety on the brink of extinction, 45c) and cooked all of it in the water left from blanching the broccoli. At the end of the cooking time for the rice (ca. 18 minutes), I finished it all off with Cosimo’s fragrant Extra Virgin Olive Oil from The Scrumptious Pantry (45c). Very comfortable, but I was amazed at my craving for carbs today. I wonder if this has something to do with the whole “green smoothie” thing….

Total Food Cost For Today: 7.08$

Tomorrow, I will be headed abroad for 10 days. During these days, I will suspend the “Value Eating” posts, as I do not want to falsify the results using other country’s grocery prices and a unfavorable exchange rate to the dollar. More “Value Eating” on March 9 – in the meantime, check back for regular posts, especially a conclusion to the first 30 days of “Value Eating”!

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Day 33 - Value Eating on 02/24/2010

One more breakfast of Austrian striezel - this time with nuts. Just as yummy. Need to send care package to mummy. Cannot remember to have eaten such a delicious striezel in a long time. How often are Austrian striezels expedited to Germany from Chicago? Breakfast today also included a blood orange: 1.90$

Lunch another leftover serving: 2$

Afternoon snack: 1 glass of the organic pear/beet smoothie - 50c

Dinner: Mac&Cheese Italian style: a nice plate of Carlo's Durum Wheat Pasta from The Scrumptious Pantry (70c) with two slices of Wisconsin blue cheese (62c) melted with just a splash of milk (20c) and a pinch of black pepper (2c) = 1.54$

Total Food Cost for Today: 5.94$

Day 32 - Value Eating on 02/23/2010

Today was easy... enjoying leftovers!!

But before we indulge in some more Sauerkraut, my breakfast was a HUGE SLICE of "Mohnstriezel" from an Austrian Bakery on Clark Street. It is a sweet bread, yeast dough based, that has poppy seeds and sugar mixed in. I almost fell over backwards when I tasted it. JUST LIKE IN VIENNA. My mum would kill for a taste of this bread! It is just as it should be, a great Austrian baking tradition kept alive in Chicago! Pensa te!! I would lie if I knew how much my friend had spent on this Striezel, and I have no intentions to inquire, after all, it was her hostess' gift. I guess though if we assume 60c for the slice I enjoyed we should be save. So, once more, 1.10$ for brunch expenditures (yes, I had a cappuccino. This coffee thing is terrible. Once I know I have it in my fridge, that darn appliance calls my name. That is why I should not have coffee in the house (and cheese, while we are at it).

Afternoon snack: a red beet pear smoothie. Ha! Now here is a story! After waiting over two weeks for some neighbor who accidentally signed for my super-duper blender-food processor to return that precious appliance to me, it finally arrived yesterday. I had been inspired to invest in a blender after reading a bit about the raw diet and how it is supposed to be good for you. As you most probably have found out by now, I like my food cooked. Spiced up. Transformed. Elevated. Not necessarily raw. But (there is always a but), I did totally understand the logic behind all of this raw eating. It makes sense, if you look at the data and studies and what not. So I figured, if I could get me to eat some more raw stuff all shredded together into a veggie&fruit smoothie that might be the solution? We will see in the days to come, but my red beet (2 small beets) and pear (1 pear) smoothie was really yummy. I also added some of the beet's leaves and stems which added a nice texture to the whole thing. The chopped stems gave me the impression of nuts. Now do not ask me how my brain made the connection between beet stems and nuts, but I can assure you, that was absolutely the association I had. 0.69c beets + 0.79c pear = 1.48$ in three servings of which one was stored away for tomorrow.

Dinner was a dumpling/kraut/pork loin leftover serving for approx. 2$

Total Food Cost for Today: 4.08$

Day 31 - Value Eating on 02/22/2010

Horrah for another dinner party! What can be better than dinner with friends??

Brunch was the last piece of cake and another cappuccino… 1.55$

Now that the cake is finished, I am looking forward to having something else to start the day with … living alone and hence cooking for one person only (meaning that one cake lasts basically two weeks… yikes…) is really not the biggest driver to spend extended playtime in the kitchen. It is hard to cook from scratch every day, needing a variety of ingredients, spices etc to be able to create different dishes day by day. And when you are living by yourself, it might take a while to finish a 4lb bag of flour. So, to all you none cooks out there, I understand where you are coming from, but I urge you nevertheless to try. The best way is to cook a little more and freeze meal size portions for those crazy days in which you are just too busy to think about cooking or have had no time to do your groceries.

Or: throw a dinner party! It does not have to be a fancy one. Just invite some friends over to share the pleasures of a home cooked meal. Which was what I did today.

Funnily enough, no matter in which country I am, people ask me to cook Sauerkraut.
Now, not that we Germans eat Sauerkraut every day. Very far from it. Rather the opposite, as a good Sauerkraut takes a lot of time to prepare. Truly not an option for a last minute dish. So, here I was again, cooking Sauerkraut (for those interested, recipe below!). Luckily I live in Chicago with an abundance of German heritage food places, so I bought a smoked pork loin, which was totally delicious, at Gene’s on Lincoln Avenue. As a side I prepared bohemian dumplings (which – as one of my guests rightly said- look like breaded baked potatoes: they are fairly long and then served sliced up). For dessert it was Apfelstrudel with Vanilla cream. As always, I had prepared more that was eaten (I wonder, is it me or my dinner guests?), so all food expenses can pretty much be divided by 8 servings:
2 large jars of imported Sauerkraut (5.78$), 1.5 onions (0.75c), potato (0.46c), 1.5 apples (1$), olive oil (25c), Bay leaves (70c). Smoked pork loin (11.71$). For the dumplings: a day old baguette (1$), 2 tbsp butter (60c), 2 eggs (67c), 1 cup whole wheat flour (30c). For the dessert: flour (30c), cooking oil (25c), 4 apples (2$), ¼ cup sugar (40c,) raisins (60c) and almonds (25c). For the vanilla sauce: flour (5c), 2 cups milk (1$), 3 egg yolks (50c), sugar (40c). = 3.30 for entrée’ and dessert! And except for the Sauerkraut, all ingredients were organic or at least artisan prepared (in the case of the pork)

Total Food Cost of Today: 4.85$

For those of you interested in the secret of good sauerkraut:

1 tbsp. of cooking oil
1 medium sized onion, finely chopped
1.5 sour apples, peeled and cut into small cubes
2 bay leaves
1 medium size potato, shredded
1 jar of Sauerkraut (fermented white cabbage)

1) sautee a finely chopped onion, 2) add the apples cut into small cubes, 3) add a couple of bay leaves, 4) add large jar of Sauerkraut (attention: white cabbage will not do, you need Sauerkraut – the fermented fare!), 5) shred one potato into the Sauerkraut. 6) cook over a low flame for at least two hours, the longer the better. All of that best do a day before you are planning to serve your sauerkraut. 7) 20 min before dinner, slowly reheat the sauerkraut with the smoked pork loin nestled in the kraut – that way the sauerkraut will take on some of the meaty flavor.
Best served with dumplings, cause they can nicely absorb the kraut’s liquid.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Day 30 - Value Eating on 02/21/2010

Today we were celebrating my Uncle’s birthday! Knowing that we were going to have an early dinner at Rosebuds, the classic Italian-American restaurant with huge portions and home-style cooking, I just had a very simple brunch: a niece piece of my cake (which is almost gone by now) and a cappuccino. I finally bought some nice coffee for my Bialetti Mokka… I cannot have coffee first thing in the morning, but after a couple of hours, the smell of coffee has something comforting for me.

Cake 60c, milk 50c, coffee 45c (the roast is called dancing goat and I bought it at the Dill Pickle Grocery Coop. It is from a small roaster called Batdorf & Bronson Coffee Roasters located in Olympia, WA) =1.55$

The dinner serving of Spaghetti & meatballs (needed to have them, never had had this quintessential Italian-American dish before ) was 12.95$ and could have fed an army! It took me until 3am the night to eventually digest enough to go to sleep!!

Total Food Cost of Today: US$14.50

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Day 29 - Value Eating on 02/20/2010

Thursday, Friday and Saturday are very much on-the-road days for me. Should you decide to think of me one of those days, picture me in a grocery store talking food with customers and sampling out The Scrumptious Pantry products. I totally love these events. Honestly, I love talking food, cooking food, sampling food (yeah, that comes as a surprise to you, right?), so I am having tons of fun when I am doing in store presentations. The best thing: I will eventually bring home some delicious cheeses, meats or other goodies I discovered in the store.

But eating wise, it is a bit tricky. I always think I might be missing something when I take a longer break for lunch, so I prefer to hide a sandwich somewhere around my table that I can take a bite from when no one is close. Now that better be a sandwich without too many layers or loose ingredients – so I perfected the frittata sandwich for these occasions. A frittata (Italian omelette) gives me a good boost of energy cause of the protein, it is easy to eat and can be prepared the day before. I am usually whipping up my next day frittata while I am cooking dinner. At least there is no need to clean dishes in the morning before dashing out to whatever store I am headed to. So today was the day of the Spinach stems – sautéed in olive oil and with a pinch of Roberta’s herbed Roasting & Grilling Salt it found its place in a two happy egg frittata in a multigrain roll made a delightful brunch. (1+0.05+0.25+0.67+0.1)= 2.07$

For dinner, I had a little of Carlo’s Durum Wheat Pasta from The Scrumptious Pantry left over which I had not used for
sampling, so I sexed that one up with the last organic red bell peppers from my Green Grocer organic box, a small organic carrot and a dash of Cosimo’s Extra Virgin Olive Oil and Roberta’s salt (both from The Scrumptious Pantry) to become an easy-to-make-pasta salad. (0.7+0.69+ 0.2+0.4+0.05 =2.04$

Total Food Cost for Today: 4.11$

Day 28 - Value Eating on 02/19/2010

As as the cake is still standing around here (that is the real problem of baking when you live by yourself – you eventually eat all the stuff!), I hade a slice of cake and a cup of milk for brunch: 1.10S

For dinner I prepared another broccoli pilaf, trading the almond for some more hot chili peppers!: 2$.

Snack was an organic pear (68c).

Total Food Cost For Today: 3.78$

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Pumpkin & Black Olive Pasta

Being February most of you are most probably fed up of root vegetables and pumpkin and squash by now... No need to be! There are so many great recipes still out there! Try this one: Pasta with pumpkin & black olives. It is Carlo's fav pasta dish in autumn and winter - works best with short pasta, I recommend the shell shape (Conchiglie), because it allows the sauce to nicely nestle in the shells...

2 oz pitted and chopped black olives
½ box Carlo’s Conchiglie Pasta from The Scrumptious Pantry
14 oz pumpkin cut into small cubes
1 tbsp capers
1/4 chopped onion
3/8 cups warm vegetable broth
1 tbsp butter
3 tbsp Cosimo’s Extra Virgin Olive oil from The Scrumptious Pantry
salt and pepper

In a large pan heat the butter with the olive oil. Add the rosemary and the onion and saute’ until transparent. Add the pumpkin, stir and cover the pan, cook on a moderate flame for 15 minutes, adding the vegetable broth from time to time until the pumpkin is tender, add salt and pepper to taste. Add the black olives and the capers and cook for 3 minutes. Cook Conchiglie pasta in boiling and salted water till al dente. Drain and into the pan, stir well. Serve in warm plates, sprinkle with pepper. (Note: do not rinse the pasta with water!)


Friday, February 19, 2010

Day 27 - Value Eating on 02/18/2010

When I have too much on my mind, I desert to the kitchen. “Cooking relaxes me” is a quote I have heard often. I wonder why that is the case? Does cooking remind you of your childhood days, the smell of home cooked meals dancing through the house? Or is it the warmth of the kitchen stove and oven that makes one feel protected? Or is it the creative part? The fact that you have to concentrate on getting things right? The feeling of achieving something? It would be interesting to see if there is any research on this issue…. Anyways, I love cooking to get my mind of things, and I love baking. So yesterday’s evening ended with me baking a very simple pear cake: 2 sticks of butter, ½ lb. cane sugar, 4 eggs, a tsp. baking powder, a tsp. cinnamon and a little less than a lb. of whole wheat flour. One sliced pear and 45 min later I had my all-organic cake that makes 12 nice big pieces for total cost of 7.24$, that is ca. 60c a piece. Not only is it much cheaper than most of the mass-produced “cakes” in the various café chains, it actually tastes like real food. It certainly made a great breakfast with a glass of Castle Rock Farm’s milk (50c). = 1.10$

Late morning snack was an organic blood orange for 50c.

For lunch I wanted to stay on the light side, cause I had guests coming for dinner and I wanted to be hungry! Nothing worse than a dinner party where no one is eating, right? The quintessence of food is to enjoy company and spend time together. So better have a healthy appetite (which does not mean one has to be starved). I enjoyed another of the yummy multigrain rolls from Cook Au Vin with a simple salad of three shredded carrots (3x20c) and 1 shredded beet (60c) = 1.30$.

As often, I was only drinking hot water. I like tea in between meals, but with my food I like plain tasting drinks. As you can guess, I am not the girl that drinks sodas with her food. Wine is another story, as it allows you to elevate the taste of the food. Just as you can ruin a great meal with the wrong wine (and a great wine with the wrong food). Often, I am asked what my favorite wine is. In my opinion, there is no such thing. Almost every wine has a perfect food match out there, waiting to create a brilliant unison. It is the STYLE of wine, that I might personally disagree with (think over-oaked, jam-like wines that do not speak of the terroir in which the vines were grown, but of some new & fancy winemaking technique in the laboratory (oops, did I just write that? Of course, I meant to say “cellar” Better drink a great wine once in a while than something cheap)….

Anyways, dinner was a delicious fish that was local (fished in Lake Superior). Shoot me, but I forgot the name. Will call Dirk’s Fish tomorrow and find out (also because my dinner guests loved it and want to know what they ate). I briefly turned the fillets in a mix of organic flour and Roberta’s “insanely aromatic” (quoting Daily Candy here) Roasting & Grilling salt. Off it went to be briefly pan-seared in olive oil to form a delicious crust. As a side I had prepared a rice pilaf with Fabio’s & Nicoletta’s Fragrance rice, broccoli, slithered almonds, a pinch of chili peppers and some onion. Finished off with a drizzle of Cosimo’s Extra-Virgin Olive Oil premium blend it was perfect (btw, I paired it with a Chardonnay from a small vineyard in California called Girasole). Cost for one person (all sustainable/organic ingredients): 2$ (fish), 0.2$ (flour, roasting & grilling salt, EVOO), almonds (0.13$), 0.8c (rice), broccoli (0.18c – it was a lot of broccoli, but it was also really inexpensive when I bought it on sale at the Green Grocer: 99c a bunch!), 0.06c for spices, 0.15 for finishing oil = 3.51$. The wine was 3.5$ per person.

For dessert, I served ½ slice of the pear cake topped off with a tablespoon of organic greek style yoghurt in which I had blended a hint of cinnamon. Drizzled with a teaspoon of local honey and sprinkled with roasted pumpkin seed it was the perfect finishing to a perfect dinner (which, as already pointed out in other posts, does rely as much on the company and conversation as it does on the quality of the food!) = 0.3$ (cake), 0.1$ (yoghurt & cinnamon), 0.1$ (honey), 0.15$ pumpkin seeds = 0.65$

Total Food Cost for a Very Happy Day of Eating: 10.56$ including wine

Day 26 - Value Eating on 02/17/2010

For Brunch I indulged in an omelette made of two happy eggs (67c), some great mushrooms from River Valley Farms (1.5$) that went just perfect with one of the Cook au Vin multigrain roll (10c) = 2.27$

Although after watching Julia Child’s omelette session just now (, I wonder if I was really doing a frittata? Very entertaining video to watch, I wish I would have been around to see her cooking shows every week!

In the afternoon I snacked on an organic bell pepper (from Mexico), which was among the other goodies in the produce box the Green Grocer provides his customers with. I cannot wait for spring to come to have some more local produce! The demand for local root veggies has been so huge this year, that most farmers are out. Although one small farm told me she had put aside more than 25 tons (!) of root veggies in October! I am very impressed to say the least with the spirit of Chicago locavores! 0.69$
Dinner finally was ½ Red hen demi-baguette (35c) with Wisconsin blue cheese (31c) and a spinach salad (1$): a bunch of spinach without the stems – which I kept for later use… never throw anything away, these stems will be tender once they are sautéed, so no need to waste food! They will be a great base for another frittata/omelette soon! Anyways, I was lucky to have some homemade vinegar around to finish off the spinach. No salt or pepper… I like the spinach taste to fully come through = 1.66$

Total Food Cost For The Day: 4.62$

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Day 25 - Value Eating on 02/16/2010

Brunch was a multigrain roll from Cook au vin (10c) with organic butter (15c) and homemade fig jam (88c). I also had ½ cup or organic yoghurt (38c) and ½ organic apple (40c). = 1.91$

Lunch was the leftover veggies from yesterday, spiced up with some chili peppers, cumin and cinnamon. (0.06$ for spices) = 2$

For Dinner I was taken to explore Chicago’s Little India. How I love Indian Food! It is one great example how easy it is to eat delicious food with a huge variety of tastes – based on very simple ingredients. How yummy was that ChickPea Curry! And the potato pancake with cauliflower… But of course it requires basic cooking – which seems to be something the average American is completely estranged with. It is incredible what a take out culture has developed in this country. And I understand that there is little interest in quality food if it is being gulped down at a bistro table, the table setting being the stains the previous customers have left behind and a bunch of plastic boxes, wraps and styrofoam containers. How can that be an enjoyable meal? And if eating is not about enjoyment anymore, but only nutritional intake, sure no one asks questions about the quality of the daily bread anymore. A very sad sight.

Anyways, we stuffed ourselves for 15$ per person…and enjoyed two bottles of Goose Island beer with is (Chicago’s not so micro-anymore- brewery): 2.5$

Total Food Costs for Today – 21.41$

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Day 24 - Value Eating on 02/15/2010

Breakfast was a cup of organic yoghurt (75c) and ½ organic apple (40c) = 1.15$

For lunch I had – fanfare – organic mac&cheese. Yep. Inspired by a reader’s comment that my eating was not representative of the average American’s eating habits, I had grabbed the box or organic mac&cheese at the Dill Pickle Grocery Co-Op a couple of weeks ago. What I did not know is that you should use milk for the sauce. Oops, no milk in house, but the package said that yoghurt could be used for a “tangy” taste and so I mixed a bit of yoghurt with water and a tablespoon of butter. And it was ok. It was edible. Will I buy another box the next time I am shopping? Probably not, just because I like to eat stuff that feels alive in some way. Powdered cheese, no matter how organic, is just not my idea of indulging. But it was certainly interesting to try. Cost: 1.99$ (it was on sale from 2.79) plus 15c for the butter and 20c for the yoghurt = 2.34$ The package reads 2.5 servings, but I finished it all…

For dinner I craved some liveliness, so I stirred up ½ organic local yam (25c), ½ bunch of rainbow chard (1.2$), ½ onion (25c), 2 organic local carrots (40c), 1 organic local beet (60c) in some olive oil (25c) (no salt or pepper) = 2.95$, divided by two meals (yep, tomorrow’s lunch is already cooked, I would say!)

Total Food Cost of Today = 4.96$

Monday, February 15, 2010

Day 23 - Value Eating on 02/14/2010

For brunch we had two happy eggs sunny side up in olive oil (0.82S+0.25$) a couple of slices of local, happy bacon (1$), a multigrain roll from Cook au Vin Bakery (0.1$), all matched with a cup of organic green tea (0.15$) = 2.32$

Dinner was a beautiful grass fed roastbeef (2$) with organic fingerling potatoes (0.8$) and some organic frozen green beans (0.4c) = 3.2$

Total Food Cost for Today = 5.52$

Day 22 - Value Eating on 02/13/2010

A day before Valentines, and the Logan Square Kitchen on Milwaukee has had the best idea ever – a pastry market! Chicago’s Sweet Artisans showcased their talent from 10am to 3pm: cakes, pastries, chocolates, truffles, jams… It sounded too good to be true, so I took my friend from Italy there to indulge in all things sweet. Knowing the local food culture is so important in order to get to know a city! We arrived at 10.15am – 15min after opening, and the space was jammed. What a success for the Logan Square Kitchen Crew! Congrats! Anyway, for breakfast I bought a yummy sticky cake from Floriole Bakery (hmmm.. pecans!) and a big pot of freshly brewed Metropolis Coffee. Total cost: 4$

I skipped lunch, cause I was giving a Valentine’s cooking demonstration at the Green Grocer on Grand Avenue and I was stuffed just looking at all of the food I was preparing.

For dinner, I had already prepared The Scrumptious Pantry’s “Love Apple” pasta sauce with Roberta’s Sun-Dried Tomato Spread and Guido’s Balsamic which we enjoyed on a steaming plate of Carlo’s Pasta (tomato based sauces are always better when they had a chance to sit for at least a couple of hours, better still a night!). Ingredients for four servings: organic canned tomatoes: 2.49$, 2 tbsp. of Extra Virgin Olive Oil (0.5$), an organic garlic clove (0.01c), 1 tbsp. of Roberta’s Sun Dried Tomato Spread (1.3$), a sprinkle of dried hot chili peppers (0.03c$) and a tablespoon of Guido’s Balsamic Dressing Sauce (1$): 3.34$ p. person served on Carlo’s Durum Wheat Pasta from The Scrumptious Pantry.

For dessert we sliced up an organic apple (0.8$) and enjoyed some of the Chocolate Pub Bark from Rich Chocolates (1$), hence 0.9$ per person.

Total Food Cost For Today: 8.24$

Day 21 - Value Eating on 02/12/2010

The day started with an organic navel orange for $0.8.

For lunch I had the last two slices of the artisan bread I have been munching on over the last week with the French Pepper Pate’ from Schaefer’s (1.14$).

For dinner I took a friend visiting from Italy to Longman & Eagle, where I munched on a homemade bratwurst sandwich with sauerkraut (11$).

Total Food Cost of The Day 12.94$

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Day 20 - Value Eating on 02/11/2010

Today was one of these crazy workdays in which one is zooming around town like a deflating balloon – although I guess it is fair to say that I was zooming in a coordinated fashion. Deflated though I felt after the whole day walking around the city with my sample bag in hand (and the content of my winter produce box in my bagpack – yeah for Cassie and her Team at Green Grocer Chicago for taking good care of us!!). So for dinner, I was happy to relax chopping and stirring in the kitchen!

After yesterday’s dinner party I skipped breakfast – I was so full still! Gosh, did I enjoy these beet ravioli!!

For lunch I had a craving for the Chicken Wrap Cassie sells at her store – I had actually already picked up my produce box earlier and was working away in a nearby copy shop, but I had to go back for one. It just kind of hit me while cutting the recipe handouts…. Dried cranberries, scallions, chicken – all organic, all delicious. And lucky I was to get the last wrap of the day! Ha! All those lucky pennies I had found in the street the last days – I knew they meant something! The wrap was washed down with a double espresso (Black Cat by Intelligentsia, how I love you!) Sandwich 7.05, coffee 2.17 = 9.23$

Dinner: in 1tbsp of olive oil (0.25$) I sautéed 1/3 organic local yam (0.15$), ½ bunch organic rainbow chard (1.20$), 1 organic local beet (0.60$), ½ organic local purple (!) potato (0.40$)– never seen that before, but it was pretty to look at with all the different colors. 0.04$ for salt and pepper The United Colors of Root Vegetables kind of. Really well with that went a beer from Ohio (1.86$) I had found at Provenance Food & Wine on California = 4.50$

Evening snack: organic apple 0.8$

Total Food Cost for Today: 13.53$

Day 19 - Value Eating on 02/10/2010

We got like a lot of snow outside. Tons of it. I live in a ground level apartment, so all I see when I look out of the window is white. Which makes me want to start my day with something warm and comforting, so – what a surprise!- brunch was Fabio’s & Nicoletta’s Polenta from The Scrumptious Pantry, a tablespoon of the organic local honey and an organic apple (80c +15c +28c = 1.23$)

Lunch were two slices of artisan bread which I toasted and enjoyed with some of the great French pepper pate’ I had bought at Schaefer’s in Skokie. (60c +54c = 1.14$)

For Dinner I got lucky. Chicago’s best pasta home cook was celebrating her birthday with a great selection of cheeses and homemade ravioli… Oh what wonders she did! Celery ravioli topped with sautéed mushrooms were really yummy, but the raviolis filled with roasted beets & ricotta were to die for – especially after tossed in a sauce of melted raw butter, Guido’s Balsamic Dressing from The Scrumptious Pantry and a little goat cheese. So perfect! And the best proof that enjoying your food in company is so much more fulfilling. You eat slowly, enjoy every bite, a nibble here, a taste there - celebrate food! So much better than stuffing your face with some mediocre TV dinner. How to price that dinner, I honestly have no idea. Would it be fair to put down 10$ given all the cheeses and meats and wine?

Total Food Cost for Today: 12.37$

Day 18 - Value Eating on 02/09/2010

Yesterday I had cooked a bigger batch of polenta, half of which I had set aside in the fridge for today. I love “leftover” polenta fried in butter and drizzled with honey… Also great as a savory version with blue cheese and prosciutto!
So, brunch was composed of Fabio’s & Nicoletta’s Polenta from The Scrumptious Pantry, a tablespoon of organic butter, a tablespoon of the organic local honey I bought at the Logan Square Farmers’ Market (80c +15c +21c = 1.16$)

Snack was an apple and some of the yummy cheese (New York Cheddar) I had bought at Foodstuffs (28c+60c=88c).

Dinner was Carlo’s Durum Wheat Pasta from The Scrumptious Pantry with an organic pesto I had bought at the Dill Pickle Coop a couple of weeks ago. I really think that pesto is best when it is made fresh, in the height of summer, with the best ingredients you can get your hands on, but this one was actually quite good for coming out of a jar. And the good thing about pesto is that it is so convenient – perfect when you have no kitchen yet (as was the case when I bought this one). (1.99$+1$ = 2.99$)

Total Food Cost for Today: 5.03$

Monday, February 8, 2010

Food Person of the Decade?

I have been thinking about this for a while now. You remember, like six weeks ago? New decade, big thing, Person’s of the year and the decade all around. Internet people, business people, politicians. Even wine person of the decade. No food person – at least I did not come across one.

Who are the people that left a significant mark on our food culture in the past ten years?

The TV/Celebrity Chef? We certainly had a lot more of chefs on TV, talking about food, preparing food, showing the average viewer how to cook up a storm or broil a simple roast. Anthony Bourdain traveled around the world, and the couch potato traveled with him. Gordon Ramsey had short-tempered outbursts on TV screens on both sides of the Atlantic. Yep, they were everywhere, but rather than taking the inspiration to their home kitchens, viewers settled in their sofas, watching Celebrity Chefs as you watched the Gladiators in the Roman circus. Only that in Roman time the snack food served was certainly better than the chips, dips, and drinks coming with today’s TV evenings. If anything, these Celebrity Chef’s provided great entertainment, but their impact on revitalizing our food culture is very questionable to me. So, out goes the Celebrity Chef.

And in steps – a first Lady and her garden. How can someone become a food person of a decade if she was only in the public eye for eleven months of it, you ask? Well, if you can win the noble peace price after nine months, why not food person of the decade after eleven? The public stunt of an organic garden in the White House was certainly a masterpiece to get food on the political agenda. But only creating a forum is not yet enough for winning this noble title, cause as all things politics it is easy to announce a vision and much more difficult to pull it through. Especially in this complex system of big industries, lobbyists and political deals. I surely hope we will see Michelle Obama involved in education and actions towards better food supply for years to come, so maybe in 2020?

So how about all those bloggers and writers that cooked their heart out for a year and taking us along on their journey: eating locally, growing their own food, grilling the roadkill as a Sunday roast: Barbara Kingsolver (“Animal, Vegetable, Miracle”), Alisa Smith & J.B. MacKinnon (“Plenty”), Gary Paul Nabhan (“Coming home to eat”). Certainly admirable projects they pulled off and great learnings involved for bystanders looking on. These projects were fueled by a lot of effort, but although I admire them and personally have had great take-aways from their books, I wonder if their accounts have not scared the biggest part of the population. If you do not happen to be a writer by profession, with the current day job of writing a book about your experience, spending a day driving through the countryside looking for locally grown wheat does not sound very feasible to most of us. Which might result in de-motivation rather than the revolutionary spirit of “we can change our food culture”. In light of this doubt, the blogging localvore is not receiving this decade’s award, although I acknowledge that their efforts might have an important impact when discussing and shaping the supply-side of REAL FOOD FROM REAL PEOPLE. But that will have to be evaluated in 2020.

Another spokesperson for real food is journalist Michael Pollan. With his books he has been going full circle. He clearly analyzed the problems we are facing when it comes to food production and presents them in a way everyone can understand. Not only has been an advocate for changes in the way we produce our food, he has stimulated consumers to make fast changes to how they were eating, giving them easy and simple indications to follow. His last book “Food Rules” is certainly a great tool for the consumer needing some guidance and a driver for changes in our food culture. All these achievements make him almost the Food Person of the Decade.

The Food Person of the Decade in my opinion is the family farmer. Whose sheer existence and daily struggle tended the fertile ground on which all other ideas can now grow. It is the family farmer that has not given in to big agribusiness, that stood tall on his land and defended real food. Without them manning the fortress of real agriculture over the last decades - and especially the last one if we consider all the developments like GMO etc – no White House garden would have been possible. Michael Pollan would not have had no one to write about, and the blogging localvores would have starved a couple of weeks into their projects.

The Food Person of the Decade is the family farmer: the Barbaras & Fabios, Carlos, Martys & Krises, the Veras and Vickis, just to name a few. Their hard work, their sweat, their risk taking, their crop planning, them in their fields and on their pastures for 18 hours a day, 7 days a week, on Sundays, holidays, birthdays – they are what keeps our society alive. It is the family farmer that brings taste to our kitchens, in restaurants and homes. It is the family farmer that does the magic of awakening tastebuds. I am grateful that I am so lucky to call some of them my friends and be inspired by them.

Day 17 - Value Eating on 02/08/2010

Today was one of those experiences that makes me wonder on what basis people choose to feed themselves. To enjoy great food or to spend little? I went to dinner to an Italian restaurant with a large group of friends and although the fixed menu sounded really good (and I was dying for some of the dishes - I was so looking forward to that dinner!), the food was very mediocre. It had nothing to do with the original recipes, and although one could forgive the “americanization” of certain recipes, they were also executed in a very soulless and tasteless fashion. I would have preferred to spend more and eat real food - or better still, cook my dinner at home: even if one buys the finest ingredients one will still spend far less than eating out. Which does not mean I am against restaurant dining per se, if the restaurant is able to create a special atmosphere and experience, I happily pay for the possibility to enjoy those. Anyway, we need to put down 25$ in today’s cost calculation for dinner.

Other than that I had a simple breakfast of Fabio’s & Nicoletta’s Polenta from The Scrumptious Pantry, with local honey and an apple (80c+15c+28c) = 1.23$ and for lunch a peanut butter – banana sandwich (bananas are officially all eaten up and no more to come till my next vacation in some exotic country…): 1.07$, taking into consideration two slices of artisan bread.

Total Food Cost For Today: 27.30$

Day 16 - Value Eating on 02/07/2010

Breakfast was a quick banana with peanut butter (47 c - now that I got that stuff in my house I keep eating it cause it is so very convenient to “prepare”… about time I run out of bananas and this bad habit will eventually stop…), I wanted to keep my appetite for whatever I might find at the Logan Square Farmers’ Market…

I found a local honey from an Illinois farm which I immediately bought – I just have a thing for honey. Which reminds me that I miss “my” bees, which are now happily cuddled up in their beehive on the vineyard back in Tuscany, waiting for spring to come. They were my favorites. Watching the bees humming in and out of the hive, dancing over flowers and herbs was the best way to relax. Although I got stung more than once, I am totally in love with these great little animals. But I believe that bees belong into nature, so no beekeeping for me in the city of Chicago, although I was told by various sources now that there is a lot of urban beekeeping going on here. Well, not for me, thank you. Anyways, the honey refined my lunch, a delicious pancake, German style. The real German style that is and not the balloon type I once saw at the International House of Pancakes. It is made of flour, eggs and milk (although I tend to use water), hence ingredient wise it is very similar to crepes, only that the German pancake is high like an omelet. It is great either sweet or savory (love it with Speck and cheese!), today I had one with apples, honey and cinnamon. Yumm. Cost: 82c for two happy eggs, 56c for two organic apples, 8c for whole wheat flour, 2c for cinnamon and 15c for local honey, and 18 c one tbsp of organic butter = 1.63$

Dinner was a local organic beet (60c), pickled herring bought at the sustainable fishmonger (2$) and a slice of pumpernickel (16c) = 2.66$

Total Food Cost for the Day: 4.76$

Saturday, February 6, 2010

After 14 days - What is the real luxury of my eating lifestyle?

Two weeks in and the average daily expense for eating only REAL FOOD FROM REAL PEOPLE: artisan made, sustainable and whenever possible locally farmed runs to 8.82$. As mentioned in an earlier post, I now include eating out (once), dinner party with friends, the occasional coffee on the go and some nice wine in order to be more in line with US statistics that are assuming 50% at home and 50% out of home food expenses.

For the quality of food I am eating I think this is very reasonable, because the wines I drink and cheeses I enjoy are not of the cheap kind. And I rather spend more money on delicious food that popcorn at the theater. But that is a personal choice.
The days on which I eat at home without anything super fancy – like my beloved bean & grain soups with some yummy root veggies and drizzled with great olive oil from The Scrumptious Pantry– I spend as little as 3$.
So what does this tell us (if it tells us anything after only two weeks)?

A reader had sent me a link to a recent experiment a group in Seattle is doing to raise awareness for hunger in the US. The participants are trying to live on the budget a family using food stamps would have available – six dollars a day on average. (see Although the experiment in Seattle has nothing to do with indulging in artisan, local & sustainable food, there was one important take-away in the comments by the paper’s readers: they were all stating that one can happily feed a person on around 3-5$ day if ONE COOKED. That was the recurring comment: “get in the kitchen and cook from scratch – that is healthier and is cheaper”. So how does this relate to what I am doing? Well, if you knew how often I heard “but no one eats like this” in the last two weeks. Bean soups? Roasted root vegetables? Cornmeal for breakfast? Heaven help! It does not come in a box that you tear open and pop in your microwave…

Is the real luxury I am living not the money I spend on wholesome ingredients and artful food crafted by family farms & fine artisans, but the time I spend preparing these simple but delicious ingredients? I wonder…

Friday, February 5, 2010

Day 15 - Value Eating on 02/05/2010

Day 15 and really easy calculations:

Breakfast: an apple and a banana: 53c

An espresso at Link’s Sweet Bean – a tiny coffee roaster basically in Wilmette’s town square. I enjoyed that – I miss real good espresso!! 1.69$

Lunch: a second serving of yesterday’s zuppa: 1.29$

Dinner: a slice of artisan bread (30c) with a nice French pate’ (54c) I bought at Schaefer’s in Skokie (they have such nice cheeses & meats… yumm): 84c

A nice cup of organic roisbush chai for after-dinner: 0.15c

Total Food Cost for Today: 4.5$