9.25.2010

Moroccan Chicken Kdra with Saffron, Chickpeas and Rice - Project Food Blog #2



The results are in.  You guys voted on which cultural cuisine I should attempt for the second Project Food Blog Challenge: Cook a Classic Dish from another Culture.  South Africa received five votes, Iraq got nine votes and Morocco wins with fifteen votes!

I know very little about Moroccan cooking other than it is exotic and spicy.  I've never even eaten it, only seen it on cooking shows.  Out of my comfort zone?  Check.   With my trusty friend Google, I started by looking up maps of Morocco.  Where exactly is this country?
 
Morocco is one of those countries that falls on the edge of many maps.  I think of it as being on the North West corner of Africa.  I didn't realize it is separated from Spain by the Strait of Gibraltar or that it is so close to Italy, and Greece.  Its northern border is the Mediterranean Sea so this makes sense.  Normally maps divide Africa and Europe so I don't think of them as neighbors.  I actually had to crop a world map to get this view that shows ALL of the countries surrounding Morocco. 

The cookbook I checked out of the library, Taste of Morocco, does a wonderful job putting the food in context.
Morocco is blessed with rich resources and a vibrant food culture reflecting a grand imperialist past and a wealth of influences absorbed over the centuries from its many traders, invaders and conquering powers.  Arab, Phoenician, Senegalese, Sudanese, Spanish, Portuguese, Middle Eastern and in particular, French cuisine can be traced throughout its dishes.  The food is distinct, pungent, seasonal and intensely regional.
I selected a classic Morocco dish: chicken kdra.  Kdra is a tagine, or rather is cooked in a tagine.  A tagine is a heavy clay pot with a cone shaped lid. (It's the pot on the cover of the cookbook.)  The lid is designed to keep moisture in the dish.  The condensation forms on the lid and rolls back down to the bottom, keeping the dish moist even when cooked for hours.  I don't have a tagine, so I'm just using a heavy bottomed pot and I'll be diligent about stirring and checking on moisture content. 

To go with the chicken kdra I'm making the national dish of Morocco, couscous.  Couscous is a made from the semolina of wheat in a process kind of like making flour and then pasta.  Check out this article about couscous  if you want to know more: What is Couscous?  For dessert we'll be having mango slices.



I was surprised I didn't need to go out and find any crazy spices other than saffron.  I cook Indian curries occasionally so I already had ground ginger and turmeric on hand and there is parsley in the garden.  I did have to clarify butter to make ghee, but that's pretty easy.  I made ghee for my Turkish Dinner party a couple of years ago.  All you do is heat the butter until it's a liquid. Let it set and then remove the solids that float to the top or sink to the bottom.  See? Easy. 

The result?  I love chicken kdra.  It's very lemony and the saffron is a spice I'm really enjoying.  It has this earthy, smokey smell that does remind me of pollen.  Saffron is the stamen of a certain crocus flower.  Jeff says it smells a little sulfury and a little like tomatoes in the food dehydrator.  At $6.99 for a half ounce, it's an investment, but it really makes this dish.  The rice and chickpeas add texture and volume.  The chicken is falling off the bone it is so tender.  I'm definitely keeping this recipe! 

Chicken Kdra with Saffron, Chickpeas and Rice
14 oz cooked chickpeas (from 1 cup dry chickpeas or 1 can)
4 pinches of saffron, briefly pan-toasted
1 teaspoon sea salt crystals
3.5 pounds of chicken parts (I used 1 cut-up chicken fryer)
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
2 tablespoons ghee
2 handfuls of fresh parsley, chopped
2 Spanish onions, halved and sliced
1 ounce long-grained white rice, washed and drained
2 lemons halved

1 2/3 cups couscous
1 tablespoon ghee
2 cups chicken broth
Step 1:  Prepare the chickpeas.  If you are using dry chickpeas, rehydrate them and then remove the loose skins.  If using chickpeas from a can, pour boiling water over the chickpeas in a sieve; remove and discard as many skins as possible. 

Step 2:  Prepare the chicken.  Start by grinding the saffron with the salt to a powder, using a pestle and mortar.  Set aside half of this mixture.  To the remaining half add the ginger, turmeric, butter and parsley, stir it together.  Rub this spice mixture over the chicken, coating well. 



Step 3:  Brown the chicken.  Put the seasoned chicken, onions, and the pulp of one lemon into a large tagine or heavy bottom pan.  Bring to a sizzle; cover and cook for 10 minutes or until the chicken is part browned.  Turn the chicken over, add the skin of the lemon (without the white pith) and 1 1/2 cups of water. 

Step 4:  Add the chickpeas.  Cover and bring back to simmering, cover again and cook for 20 minutes longer.  Add the rice, stir, cover and simmer for 20 additional minutes or until the rice is tender, sauce somewhat thickened and chickpeas hot.  Then squeeze the remaining lemon over top. 

Step 5:  Make couscous.  While the chicken is in its final 20 minutes prepare the couscous by heating the broth to a boil with 1 tablespoon ghee.  Stir in cousous, take off the heat and allow to stand covered for 5 minutes.  Fluff with a fork before serving. 

(The cat decided to come over and check out the dry couscous, he actually started eating it.  Then I put his leash on and put him outside. (Yes, we leash our cat.  I'll tell you why some day.))

Step 6:  Finish the chicken kdra by sprinkling the remaining saffron-salt over top; cover; stand 5 minutes then serve hot with couscous.

Saha wa hana. (Enjoy your meal.)

This is my entry for the second Project Food Blog challenge! I hope you like what you read, and if you do, become a follower by clicking the “follow” button in the right hand column.

If you are a Featured Publisher at Foodbuzz, please vote for me. I’d love ya for it, I really would. 
    • Voting Opens: 6AM Pacific Time September 27th 
    • Voting Closes: 6PM Pacific Time September 30th

      9.23.2010

      Which Exotic Cuisine Would You Cook?

      The next Project Food Blog challenge is to tackle a classic dish from another culture.   I'm bypassing the French and Italian standards in favor of more challenging cuisines. I went down to the library and found several regional cookbooks that are completely out of my comfort zone.  Which of these would you like to see me take on?   



      The choices are:

      A. South African - I have a friend that visited South Africa for her graduate work and she made a South African peanut soup to bring to a potluck, but it spilled in the car and I never got to try it. I picked up the Complete South African Cookbook. Although, I might need to supplement it with a cookbook that has more about the cultural context because this book is mostly recipes. There has to be more to South Africa than the annoying vuvuzela.

      B. Iraq - When I think of the Middle East, I think of conflict and war, talk about out of my comfort zone. But in the Cradle of Civilization there must be depth and richness to their food as well as their history. It would be fun to discover another side to Iraq. I checked out The Iraqi Cookbook which has stunning photos of artfully arranged food in golden light. I also like that this cookbook is geared for the American cook and kitchen.

      C. Morocco - On all the cooking shows, like Master Chef, Moroccan food comes up as this spicy, exotic, amazing food. I know pretty much nothing about this cuisine. The Taste of Morocco from Harira Soup to Chicken Kdra cookbook that I found has beautiful photos of fresh vegetables, lamb and pastries. I like that the book has a glossary of ingredients including substitutions, because I know it will be hard to find za'atar in rural Midwest America.  It's excellent to know thyme, marjoram, oregano with a pinch of pepper is a viable alternative.

      What do you think?  Which should I choose?  Which would you choose?  Go over to the right hand column and vote!  I'll leave the polls open for three days. 

      Results are in check out this post to see which cuisine I'm cooking!

      9.19.2010

      Bread and Herb Butter Stuffed Cherry Tomatoes - Recipe with Nature's Pride Bread



      Bite sized bread and herb butter stuffed cherry tomatoes are the perfect appetizer for a party.The acid of the tomato balances the bread.  The bread soaks up tasty tomato juice making a lovely stuffing with a nicely browned top.  Add a little Parmesan cheese and basil to round out the flavors and you have a very sophisticated and elegant way to entice your guests. 

      The best part? Don't tell, but they are really easy to make.  All you need are these six ingredients: 



       Bread and Herb Butter Stuffed Cherry Tomatoes
      2 slices of Nature's Pride potato bread
      24 cherry tomatoes (about one pint)
      2 tablespoons butter
      1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
      2 tablespoons fresh chopped parsley
      1 tablespoon fresh chopped basil
      Step 1:  Prepare the tomatoes.  Wash the cherry tomatoes and then cut the tops off.  Use a small spoon, I found my 1/2 teaspoon was just the right size, to scoop out the seeds and middle part of the tomatoes.  Make sure not to pierce the walls.  Then lightly salt the inside of each cherry tomato.

      Step 2:  Make the bread stuffing.  Tear the Nature's Pride potato bread into large chunks and put it in the food processor with the butter, Parmesan cheese, parsley and basil.  Pulse 4-6 times or until the bread is fine crumbs. 



      Step 3:  Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Butter a casserole dish that is just big enough to hold the tomatoes snugly.  You don't want them shifting around.  Fill each cherry tomato with stuffing.  I used the same 1/2 teaspoon to lightly press the stuffing in and then mound it on top. 



      Step 4:  Place the stuffed tomatoes in the casserole and bake in the oven for 20-30 minutes or until the tops are golden brown.  Remove from the oven, let cool at least five minutes before serving.  They are best hot, but they can also be held and served at room temperature. 

      Yields 24 servings.
         


      This blog post and recipe are for the Nature's Pride Bread Ambassador program.  Although I bought the bread myself, I'm told I might get a coupon for a free loaf, but whatever.  I like planning party food.  This was a fun little challenge.

      9.17.2010

      Fall Apple Crisp - Recipe



      I can't believe the apples are ripe!  Fall is really here.  And with fall come shorter days, comfy sweaters, mulled cider, and pumpkins.  My favorite holiday is just a couple months away!  What foodie doesn't love Thanksgiving?  But we aren't quite there yet.  We are still back at apples. 

      I love apple crisp.  It is simple, tasty and will make your whole house smell like apples and cinnamon; the perfect dessert for autumn.  It is also a great way to use less than perfect apples.  Just cut out the bad spots, no one will ever know. 

      One of the biggest down falls to many crisps is that they aren't crispy.  They are soggy.  This recipe earns the name crisp.  The method for cutting the flour into the butter and sugar keeps the topping from getting heavy and bogged down and the nuts add some texture and crunch. 

      Get in the spirit, go pick some apples and make your own fall apple crisp. 

      Fall Apple Crisp

      Topping:
      6 tablespoons of unbleached flour
      1/4 cup brown sugar
      1/4 cup white sugar
      1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
      1/4 teaspoon salt
      5 tablespoons unsalted butter
      1/4 cup coarsely chopped nuts such as pecans or walnuts
      1/2 cup old fashion rolled oats 
      Filling:
      6 apples
      1 teaspoon lemon juice
      1/8 cup honey
      Step 1:  Make the topping by combining the flour, sugars, spices and salt in a food processor, pulse a couple times until combined.  Cut the chilled butter into 1/2 inch pieces.  Add the butter to the food processor mixture and pulse until it combines to a lumpy sand texture.  Four to five 1-second pulses should do it.  Do not over do it or the mixture will get sticky and the crisp topping, well it won't be crisp. 

      Step 2:  Pour the mixture in the food processor into a medium sized bowl and add the nuts and rolled oats.  Use a spoon to mix it all together.  (Don't use your hands, their heat will melt the butter and we want the butter to be firm.)  Then put the topping into the refrigerator to keep the butter solid while you work on the filling. 

      Step 3:  Preheat the oven to 375F.  Make the filling.  Core the apples and then chop them into 1-inch segments.  I leave the skin on, but you can peal the apples if you like.  You should have about 6 cups of apple chunks.  Toss the apples with the lemon juice to keep them from browning. 

      Step 4:  To assemble the crisp, butter a 9x9 or 9 inch round baking dish.   Pour the apple chunks into the baking dish.  Drizzle the honey on top.  Then use a rubber spatula to scrape the topping over the top.  Use the spatula to evenly distribute the topping.  Bake the crisp uncovered for 40 minutes. Then turn the oven up to 400 and bake for an additional 5 minutes or until the topping is lightly browned and the filling is bubbly. 

      Let sit for five minutes at least before serving.  Serve warm with a scoop of cinnamon ice cream or a dollop of fresh whipped cream and a cup of coffee.  Yields 4-6 servings.

      9.15.2010

      Project Food Blog Challenge #1: Ready, Set, Blog!



      Hi I’m Foy! Welcome to my kitchen. I am convinced the best food is home grown and that nourishing meals can be enjoyed on a tiny budget.

      You’ll find lots of recipes here as well as a community of readers that have great ideas for how to use up all those tomatoes or what to do with parsnip; you know the big questions in life.

      I let what’s ripe in the garden or what I can gather in the woods determine the menu. Then I try out recipes that use whole ingredients and write about my experiences.

      You won’t find jars of spaghetti sauce or cans of cream of mushroom soup on these pages. What you will find are seasonal ways to prepare and enjoy food along with occasional pictures of my crazy Panamanian cat. His name is Zeus and he got in the oven all by himself, I swear. 



      There are lots of recipes for dishes like this Roasted Beets, Peaches and Goat Cheese Salad with a Citrus Pecan Dressing:



      This summer I got the chance to share some of my food preservation recipes.

      From Top Left Clockwise: dehydrating tomatoes, freezing pesto, dill pickles, freezing strawberries
      Canning, freezing and drying are great ways to bank the bounty of summer and save time and money later in the year. We are in full swing harvest right now in the Midwest. To tell the truth, it’s kind of crazy in the kitchen. I’m freezing pesto, oil packing dehydrated tomatoes, making stock and putting up pickles. I even decided to try corn relish for the first time.

      Looking ahead, in October, I’ll be focusing on pumpkin and winter squash dishes.
      • Roasted butternut squash
      • Curried pumpkin soup
      • Some sort of delicious pumpkin dessert that isn’t pumpkin pie… I haven’t come up with it yet. I am hoping it involves walnuts or possibly pecans.
      I want your ideas too! How do you prepare winter squash?

      And one other little thing, I’m throwing my name in the hat. I’m competing in the FoodBuzz.com challenge, Project Food Blog. If I advance, you’ll see exciting posts that are a little out of my comfort zone, like throwing a dinner party, step by step foodie photo shoot tutorial, and tackling a classic dish from another culture. I’d be thrilled if you came along for the ride.
      I hope you like what you read, and if you do, become a follower by clicking the “follow” button in the right hand column.

      If you are a Featured Publisher at Foodbuzz, please vote for me. I’d love ya for it, I really would. 
      • Voting opens 6:00 am Pacific Time September 20th
      • Voting closes 6:00 pm Pacific Time September 23rd.

      9.14.2010

      Foy Update is on Facebook! Like it?

      FoyUpdate now has a Facebook Fan Page.  You should "like" it so you can find out all the secret foodie thoughts I don't have time to blog about.  You'll even get sneak peaks into upcoming posts.  It'll be fun.  I hope you'll follow along. 

      http://www.facebook.com/pages/Foy-Update-Garden-Cook-Write-Repeat/143878022314224
      
      Click to go to Foy Update's Facebook Page.
      

      9.13.2010

      The Great Tomato Post - Recipes and Ideas for Tomatoes

      When it was still hot and humid and the tomato plants were heavy with the promise of harvest.  I decided to do a whole month of recipes to show case the lovely tomato because I knew this was going to happen:



      So I'm glad I did because this is the result:  Click to see the last frame in Stephanie Piro's oh so timely tomato cartoon.  Thanks, Steph, for letting me show case your work!

      Sad to say the tomato season is coming to an end.  Here's all the ways we enjoyed them this summer:


      The Ultimate Summer Sandwich BLT - Summer Recipe

       




       




      I've really enjoyed having a theme, so I think next we'll explore a vegetable that is just starting to come into season: winter squash.  We'll look at pumpkins and butternuts, and acorn squash.  Oh the possibilities.  Stay tuned!  And if you're not a follower, join!  Check out the Followers box in the right hand column at the bottom and click "follow".  Don't miss a single post.

      This post was featured in Simple Lives Thursday, 10th Edition

      9.11.2010

      Fresh Pesto with Roasted Tomatoes - Recipe



      There is a row of massive basil in the kitchen garden.  It is time to make pesto!  Pesto is basil, olive oil, pine nuts, garlic and Parmesan cheese all minced together to make a sauce.  It's delicious tossed with pasta, to add a little kick to soup, as a spread on sandwiches.  A roasted vegetable pesto sandwich is amazing.  I'll have to make a post about that soon!

      I was first introduced to pesto in high school by my cool and mysteriously artsy friend, Erika, whose mother threw pottery and made pesto for after school snacks. So I still think of pesto as earthy and chic, but now I know how easy it is to make.  This is the time of year in the Midwest when those basil plants have grown to shrub size proportions, so get out there and do some pruning! And if you don't have any in the garden, check your farmer's market or local CSA. 

      In the garden, start by removing any flowers.  You don't want your basil plants to waste their time making flowers, leaves are what you want.  Unless you want to collect seeds and in that case flowers are necessary.  I'm just thinking about the pesto here. 

      Basil will not survive a frost.  On the night of the first frost I usually run out and pick all of my herbs and then dry or freeze them to keep through the winter.  (I should do a post on that too!)  We aren't quite there yet so I only harvest enough basil to make four batches of pesto. 

      Only four batches... okay I realize that does sound like a lot, but you have to understand how huge the basil plants are; I probably only picked 4% of the leaves out there.  The great part about pesto is it freezes well.  And as long as you are making one batch you might as well make four and only do the dishes once. See there is a method to my madness.  Then on busy nights I can just make some pasta and toss it with the pesto for a quick dinner. 

      I use Cook's Illustrated's recipe for pesto.  They suggest throwing in some parsley with the basil to increase the green color.  Basil by itself turns a very deep almost black green, while the parsley stays a nice true green.  It does change the flavor slightly, I like the addition of the parsley, but you don't have to add it. 


      Cook's Illustrated also recommends bruising the basil to release the oils and hence more of its flavor before putting it in the food processor.  Traditionally the pesto is ground  in a mortar and pestle which is a lot of work.  I've got a short cut.  I'll tell you more about how to do that in the recipe. 

      Classic Basil Pesto

      1/4 cup pine nuts (you could also use walnuts or almonds)
      3 medium garlic cloves
      2 cups packed fresh basil leaves
      2 tablespoons fresh parsley leaves (optional)
      7 tablespoons olive oil
      Salt
      1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

      1 tablespoon salt
      1 pound of pasta

      Step 1:  Toast the nuts in a small heavy skillet.  Don't add oil, just do it dry.  Pine nuts in particular will go from toast to burnt very quickly so use low heat and mix them around frequently until they are golden brown and fragrant.  It shouldn't take more than 4-5 minutes.  Set the nuts aside to cool.

      Step 2:  Using the same skillet brown the garlic with 1 tablespoon of the olive oil. 

      Step 3:  Pick all the leaves off the stems.  (Check out my water bath canner doubling as a basil vase.  I was completely out of bowls.)  All you want are nice tender leaves. 

      Next bruise the basil and parsley to bring out their flavor.  Place the basil and parsley in a large zip-lock bag and seal it most of the way.  You want to leave a little opening for air to escape.  Now the fun part, use the flat side of a meat pounder or a rolling pin to bruise the basil.  You will know when you are done when all the basil has turned a darker, wet looking green color. 

      Step 4:  Combine the pine nuts, garlic, basil, parsley, 1/2 teaspoon salt and the remaining 6 tablespoons of olive oil in the food processor.  Process until smooth.  You can also use a blender for this part.  Or if you are really dedicated do it the old fashioned way with a mortar and pestle.  Once everything is smooth transfer your basil mixture to a small bowl and stir in the Parmesan cheese.

      Step 5:  Now at this point you can package and freeze your pesto if you like.  Some folks like to freeze it in ice-cube trays so they can pop a cube out to throw in a soup or season up a sauce. 

       
      I like to put mine in small freezer bags.  The above recipe serves four and since there are two of us, I divide the recipe in into two freezer bags, squish all the air out so they are flat as a pancake, seal, label and put them in the freezer.  I love this method because it takes up so little space and it's already portioned.  Except for this time I realized I didn't have pine nuts and I was out of zip-lock bags, so I just put it all in one bag and I'll come back later and mix in the pine nuts. 

      You can also keep pesto in the fridge by covering the bowl with plastic wrap.  Make sure to press the plastic wrap right down onto the top of the pesto so there is not air to oxidize and lose flavor.  The recipe says it will keep this way for up to three days.  If you want to eat that pesto right now, continue on to step six. 

      Step 6:  Bring four quarts of water to a rolling boil in a large pot.  Add the tablespoon of salt and the pasta to the boiling water.  Cook until the pasta is al dente.  Then reserve 1/2 cup of the pasta water.  Drain the pasta and return it to the pot.  I used thin spaghetti because I like that it cooks in just 7 minutes but use whatever pasta you fancy.  Rotini is particularly nice because it has lots of nooks and crannies to hold the sauce. 

      Step 7:  Stir in 1/4 cup of the reserved pasta water in with the pesto, then toss the pasta with the pesto.  Add a little more of the pasta water if needed to get the pesto to distribute evenly.  You can serve this hot or let it cool to room temperature. 

      If you want to feel like you are dining at a chic cafe serve the pasta in swirls by twirling it around a fork before placing it in little nests on the plate.  Cluster three or five swirls together and top with a sprig of basil and serve. 

      I threw on some partially dehydrated cherry tomatoes which really helped balance out our meal.  You could also mix in shredded chicken, sautéed veggies (think onion, mushroom and zucchini).  Pesto is a lovely base and is lots of fun to experiment with and it will make your whole house smell like Italy.  I hope you try it. 

      I've been dehydrating cherry tomatoes about once a week since the beginning of August.  I can never have enough! They go with everything.  In the winter I use the olive oil packed sun dried tomato and basil.  Follow the links for recipes and instructions.  This is the last post in my series on cooking with garden fresh tomatoes.  Check out all the recipes together here:  Tomato Recipes and Ideas.  Up next I'll be looking at winter squash. 

      9.08.2010

      Taste Five - Valparaiso, Indiana


      What is this?  It looks like the reduction of balsamic vinegar in olive oil is some sort of mischievous tad pole getting ready to take a bite out of the roasted garlic.  And that white wedge that looks like cheese?  That's butter.  Yeah, a big triangle of B-U-T-T-E-R.  It came with delicious bread and we e't it all. 

      Jeff and I went to the last Taste Five of the summer here in Valparaiso, Indiana.  It's a night where five of the downtown restaurants do a five dollar menu on the first Thursday of the month.  It's a great way to drum up business on our little main street a.k.a. Lincolnway.  Plus there is bonus entertainment.  Each restaurant even gets its own musician for the night. 


      We decided to try the two restaurants that we hadn't had a chance to sample yet: Bistro 157 and Don Quixote's.  I was looking forward to both of them. We went to Bistro 157 first.  It made my skirt fly up. 


      For starters their guitarist played only music I knew.  I had to sing along to Van Morrison and Simon and Garfunkel.  I noticed the table next to me was also singing along.  Perhaps it was the delicious Asian pear martinis giving a little bit of courage? 

      We tried two appetizers off their Taste Five menu.  The Beef and Smoked Gouda Quesadilla was decadent, but the Duck Pot Stickers with sweet chili dipping sauce stole the show.  So tangy and crispy and fresh with just the right amount of spice ... wow ... everyone should try these.  That's all I have to say about that. 

      Poor Don Quixote's didn't stand a chance.  We went there next and their sangria tasted like sprite mixed with a wine cooler and the fried goat cheese tasted like crispy ricotta.  Such a shame.  Goat cheese should be creamy, not clotted.  The waiter was very friendly.  He was the bright spot in the evening at Don Quixote's.  We'll give them another chance. Perhaps it's just the fried goat cheese that is below par. 

      Also I didn't get any good photos at Don Quixote's.  It was getting dark, so my camera wasn't taking quality photos.  (All the Taste Five restaurants have outdoor seating and since it was a beautiful evening eveyone was sitting outside.) 

      Unfortunately this was the last Taste Five of the summer.  Wish we had been on our game, we would have gone every first Thursday for the Valpo Taste Five.

      9.04.2010

      Caprese Pizza - Buffalo Mozzarella, Basil and Tomatoes on Pizza


      This is a recipe I promised you way back at the beginning of August when I first started the month of tomato recipes.  Jeff loves, loves, loves pizza.  I love pizza and caprese so it just seemed natural: caprese pizza.  It should be delicious.  I love combining two good ideas.  It works so with the stuffed tomatoes and curried pumpkin risotto

      To make the caprese pizza I brushed tender pizza crust with olive oil and then layered on slices of buffalo mozzarella, fresh tomatoes and basil.  Little salt and pepper to taste, baked for 10 minutes until the mozzarella is all melty and stringy.  And it was a beautiful sight to behold. 

      Unfortunately it wasn't that good.  The buffalo mozzarella became entirely tasteless, the basil crisped and burned.  I was able to salvage that at least.  I picked the toasty basil off and sprinkled fresh basil over the top.  The tomatoes had nice flavor, but weren't roasted enough.  They were too juicy and slide off the crust.  All in all we decided pizza and caprese will have to remain two separate dishes. 

      Have you ever had a successful caprese pizza?  Or is the beauty of caprese its freshness?

      This post was submitted to Yeastspotting.com.
      This post was featured on Simple Lives Thursday, 9th Edition.

      9.02.2010

      Vote for Taltree Arboretum and Gardens as 2010's Secret Corner of Chicago


      Great public spaces are the front porches of our community. Place Making Chicago asks the public to nominate and vote for their Secret Corner Chicago. This year Taltree Arboretum and Garden's name was thrown in the hat.

      I am one of Taltree's newest employees. Before applying for the position of horticulturist, I had never heard of Taltree and I've lived in the Chicagoland area ...twice! Granted, Taltree was recently founded in 1998, and it is actually in the North West corner of Indiana, but still! This corner shouldn't be a secret and here's why:

      Five Reasons You Should Vote for
      Taltree Arboretum and Gardens as
      2010’s Secret Corner of Chicago

      1.  Dogs Welcome
      How many public gardens and arboreta allow dogs, seriously?  Where are dogs allowed? Dog parks full of other dogs with nary a tree in site.  At Taltree there are miles of trails that you and your happy puppy can explore. There is even a special doggie event, Taltree Tails, coming up on October 3rd that celebrates our four legged friends and their owners.  Plus it benefits North West Indiana animal welfare organizations.

      2.  Blue Birds in the Prairie
      The Blue Bird Trail at Taltree has 24 nesting boxes and last year 52 blue birds chicks hatched and fledged.  The best time to see them nesting is June, July and August. The prairie itself a site to behold with beautiful swaths of color from bee-balm, golden rod and aster flowers in a sea of undulating tall grass.  I always feel restored after a hike at Taltree.

      3. Special Events
      Taltree rents its facilities for weddings and hosts many community events such as Art in the Garden, Taltree Tails, and Family Fun Day, as well as the Music in Nature Summer Concert Series. Still to come this summer are Duke Tomato and the Power Trip (rockin' blues), The Crawpuppies (50's swing) and the AcoustiCats (classic rock mix).   Check out the events calendar here.

      4. Fall Color
      What better place to enjoy fall color than an arboretum? The red oak and yellow hickory put on quite a show. Wouldn't a picnic be lovely on the edge of Heron Pond?  You bring the cheese and I'll bring the crusty baguette.  I expect the fall color will be best at the end of September beginning of October. 

      5. Educational Opportunities
      One of Taltree’s founding missions is education. Think of the arboretum, wet lands, prairie and woods as a huge outdoor classroom.  Schools are invited to bring their students to experience nature. Trained docents lead hikes and engage children in games centered on wildlife biology. Taltree also offers a wide variety of adult classes and workshops. Check out upcoming classes here.

      Was I right? Taltree is definitely a place for the community to gather; all 300 plus acres of it.  You should vote for it.

      Voting closes on September 9th. We don't have much time left and we are currently in third place!  Follow this link to vote for Taltree as the Secret Corner of Chicago Winner.