September 29, 2013

Best of the Wurst: My Guest Post for the Wurst Festival 2013!

So...has it really been over 10 days since my last post? (eeek!) A lot has gone on over the past several days; other priorities stepped in and took my attention away from this place, this little world I've created as my outlet - my happy place.  I try to do my best not to let more than a few days go by between posts, but sometimes life gets busy, and I have to remind myself that that's OK.  I'm not one to glorify being "busy," but for me, busy can also mean taking time away from here and away from writing to relax (sip wine, cook, organize), to recover (currently coming off a five-day head cold), to travel (sparse internet connection) and to spend time with people I care about (unplug completely).  So yes, I have been busy - but I hope you'll understand and continue to check back regularly, because with a new month beginning tomorrow (I love fall!) I have some great stories, recipes & other fun tidbits I can't wait to share with you.

In the meantime, please check out the guest post I wrote last week.  My friends over at the Good Food Festival blog asked if I'd cover the first annual Wurst Festival that took place in Daley Plaza.  This Festival was a spin on your traditional Oktoberfest; the meats, 'krout, toppings & beer were all sustainable & locally sourced - and man were they delicious!  Check out the post here:

Wurst Fest!

Locally sourced Italian sausage + krout - too tasty
Until next time...
xo Ashley

September 18, 2013

Getting Creative: Heirloom Tomatoes Three Ways!

Have you ever had an heirloom tomato, or an heirloom vegetable of any kind?  If not, you’re seriously missing out on some of the most imperfectly perfect, tasty produce known to man.  What does one mean when they say “heirloom” vegetable?  Heirloom vegetables are specialty varieties whose seeds have been passed down for at least 50 years.  Most of you may not know that today, many heirloom varieties that are still available are in danger of becoming extinct.  It’s a good thing there are folks like my friends Bob & Jen Borchardt who are committed to growing such varieties to keep them alive for future generations.

Jen + Bob Borchardt | Photo property of Harvest Moon Farms

As we near the end of tomato season I was lucky enough to be gifted with two beautiful boxes of heirloom tomatoes by the Borchardts.  Bob and Jen own & operate a beautiful farm located in Viroqua, WI called Harvest Moon Farms.  For the past several weeks I've gotten an inside glimpse at the wide variety & beauty of the produce they grow out at the farm, as I've been working with them on creating newsletters for their CSA Program, now in its second to last week for the summer.  CSA stands for Community Supported Agriculture.  In a CSA, participants essentially buy a share in a farm upfront; then, for a scheduled amount of time, they receive weekly boxes filled with a mix of fresh, seasonal produce.  In the case of Harvest Moon Farms, produce received by members is also often organic and/or heirloom produce - AKA the best stuff around!  The idea of a CSA is not only to learn to eat seasonally, and therefore more sustainably, but members are also supporting local farmers, producers, their community & their economies.

Finding the little galley kitchen in my one-bedroom apartment filled with vibrant heirlooms, I knew I couldn't let these babies go to waste.  Yes - learning how to can things is on the top of my “learn how to do” list; however, with a family wedding in Iowa last weekend (lots of travel) and so many of after-work activities lately, finding the time or obtaining the means to can was just not in the cards for me this time around.  So, what to do with all the goods?  I brought many of the tomatoes to work and gifted them to those coworkers I knew were fellow foodies & home chefs.  I also gave some to family members, but still left myself with more than enough to enjoy.  After a few consecutive (and delicious) evenings of traditional BLTs, I mixed it up to get creative with my use of the produce.  I now present to you three different & easy ways to enjoy heirloom tomatoes (in addition to a traditional BLT!):

1) Mediterranean Heirloom Tomato & Quinoa Salad

This is a healthy & filling recipe that also works well as leftovers to enjoy for lunch (travels well to work) or dinner.  Lots of nutrition here and it's vegetarian - make it vegan by simply omitting the cheese. Makes enough for about 3 servings.


- 1 cup cooked quinoa (see more on how to prepare quinoa here)
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 1 tbsp red wine vinegar
- 1 tbsp lemon juice
- about 3 heirloom tomatoes, diced
- 1/2 c cucumbers, diced
- 1/4 c red onion, diced
- 1/4 c diced Kalamata or mixed Greek olives
- fresh basil - about 4 large leaves (you can use the rest in the Caprese Salad recipe below!)
- 1/4 c diced mozzarella cheese (part skim; could also use crumbled feta cheese)
- sea salt & ground black pepper, to taste


Cook quinoa and set aside to let cool.  For vinaigrette, using a whisk mix together oil, vinegar & lemon juice in a small bowl.  Prepare all ingredients (vegetables, herbs & cheese).  In a large bowl add the cooled quinoa, vegetables, herbs, cheese and vinaigrette.  Season with salt & pepper to taste.  Serve immediately or refrigerate to enjoy later.

2) Open-Faced BAT (Bacon, Avocado & Tomato) with Honey

This is my twist on your traditional BLT.  The substitution of avocado for lettuce still keeps it healthy, and the little drizzle of honey mustard and honey on top make it feel sinful.  Making the sandwich "open-face" takes away one-half of the bread but leaves all the taste.

Ingredients: (for 2 BLTs)

- 2 heirloom tomatoes, sliced
- 4 pieces of cooked bacon (may also substitute turkey bacon)
- 1 medium avocado, sliced
- 2 pieces whole wheat bread, toasted
- 2 tbsp light olive oil mayo
- honey mustard
- honey
- salt to taste

Toast bread; top each slice with 1 tbsp light mayo.  Pile on top the tomato and avocado.  Season with a bit of sea salt, then add the bacon slices.  Drizzle honey mustard and honey over top to your liking.  Enjoy!

3) Heirloom Caprese Salad

This is your classic caprese salad, but the use of heirlooms significantly ramps up the flavor profile.  Use good quality olive oil, sea salt & ground black pepper to get the best seasoning results.


- 2 heirloom tomatoes, sliced
- fresh basil, torn into small pieces (about 3 large leaves)
- fresh mozzarella, sliced
- olive oil (good quality)
- sea salt & ground black pepper to taste


Prepare ingredients.  Layer slices of tomato with slices of mozzarella.  Top with the torn basil & generously drizzle with olive oil.  Season to your liking with sea salt & ground black pepper. Enjoy!

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September 10, 2013

Quick Cultivate Recap!

This year's Chipotle Cultivate Festival was another hit - and the busiest year the Festival has seen by far! So many good peeps made their way to Lincoln Park last Saturday to celebrate great food, beer, music & ideas, making for one hell of a fun day.  I spent most of my Saturday with the Tiny But Mighty Popcorn team in the Artisans.  We began bright & early at 8:00 am for set-up, smiles on our faces & iced coffees in hand.  I worked until late afternoon, managing to cut out a few hours before Festival's end to meet some friends over in the craft beer tent.  It was around that time I noticed Artisans and Brewers selling out of goodies & beer one after another, all while people socialized under the sunshine.  Well, Cultivate - consider yourself a smashing success!  Getting an estimated 36,000 people to gather together, support local businesses & learn about the food they consume every day - that is no easy fete - but you somehow made it look easy. Cultivate - I salute you.

Cheers to another fantastic year!

Farmer Gene & Lynn ready to take on the day!

Artisans tent

TBM kernels & Ready To Eat
I can't even handle how cute this little popcorn lover is!

Madelyn & Carlos loving their TBM popcorn!

Main stage - Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr.

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September 4, 2013

Come Together: Cultivate Festival 2013

Cultivate: to foster the growth of; to improve by labor, care or study; to seek society of; to make friends with.  All of these communal ideals represented by one word - the perfect word to encompass the spirit of community & learning embodied by Chipotle's annual food, music & ideas festival - the Cultivate Festival - happening this Saturday in Chicago's Lincoln Park.

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Cultivate brings members of a community together with local farmers, chefs, brewers, artisans, thought leaders & musicians to celebrate food and the importance of understanding what is in the food we consume.  Don't have your attention yet?  Cultivate Festival is also a FREE festival with live music, chef demos, free Chipotle burritos (if you get 4 stamps!), craft beer & more - what's not to love?  If you're still not convinced, check out this video covering last year's Fest & fun had by all...

Since the Cultivate Festival first began in Chicago in October of 2011 it's generated a lot of buzz and garnered an impressive following.  In fact, this past year the Festival added its third city to the mix - you can now find Cultivate Festivals in Chicago, Denver & San Francisco.  Plans to eventually change up the cities are in the works, but Chicago remains a staple for now.  Another staple of the Chicago Festival has been my aunt & uncle's Tiny But Mighty Popcorn.  They have been participating as Artisans in the Fest since the first year and look forward to this event all year.

Lynn & Farmer Gene Mealhow | TBM Popcorn at Chipotle Cultivate 2012

I remember my first experience at Cultivate Festival a few years ago; it was one of those picture perfect days. Loads of sunshine, a slight chill in the air, and tons of happy people walking around drinking craft beer, eating delicious food & supporting their local community.  The authentic goodness that is this Festival leaves you feeling warm & fuzzy inside.  Having fun & doing good by supporting your community - something we should all be doing a little more of.

I also had the chance to attend a pre-Fest press event at Blackbird last Thursday evening, led by Chipotle's National Director of Events, Scott Robinson. Just a few of the Artisans who are participating in the Festival were spotlighted, and that included Tiny But Mighty Popcorn!  I met the most lovely people and learned about some of the amazing things they create. Keep your eye out for these folks this weekend at Cultivate:

5 Rabbit Cervecería 

The guys behind this local brewery know their stuff, and they've brewed an extra special Ale that will be launched this weekend at Cultivate!  According to 5 Rabbit's website, "The two companies collaborated on recipe ideas and ultimately settled on a Saison, a deep golden French-Belgian ale with spicy aromas, typically thought of as a “farmhouse” ale, which fits nicely with the Chipotle event."  The honey used in the brew was sourced by the 5 Rabbit team from a small cooperative in Mexico.  I had the pleasure of meeting & getting to know founder & CEO Andres Araya and 5 Rabbit partner & creative director Randy Mosher - two very passionate individuals who continue to work hard to produce delicious, local brews for all to enjoy. Read more about 5 Rabbit & Chipotle's brilliant collaboration here.

Beautiful hand-welded box cover made by 5 Rabbit partner Randy Mosher | Andres Araya peeking in the back!

Jo Snow Syrups 

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The tag line on Jo Snow Syrup's Facebook page? "A seriously fun company making unique flavors of syrups for coffee, cocktails, sodas and snow cones" - and after meeting owner Melissa Yen & tasting her snow cones at the event I would 100% concur!  Melissa is not only outgoing & super passionate about what she does, but her product speaks for itself - all of us in attendance had our taste buds tickled when we got to try her Fig Vanilla Black Pepper snow cone - simply to die for! One of the best parts about Jo Snow Syrups is that they're made from all natural ingredients, including organic cane sugar, spices, fresh herbs & all natural extracts - another reason they're a perfect fit for Cultivate!

Jo Snow Syrups owner Melissa Yen | my Fig Vanilla Black Pepper snow cone

Faith's Farm with Chefs Paul Kahan & Curtis Duffy

Kim Snyder of Faith's Farm (named after her daughter) believes in farming the old fashioned way - on a free-range pasture not using any chemicals.  Kim specializes in preserving heritage breed livestock including Belted Galloway cattle, Gloucestershire Old Spot hogs and Bourbon Red turkeys.  All of the animals on Kim's farm are given lots of space and allowed to engage in their natural behaviors within their own family groups, flocks and herds. Kim does not feed the animals GMOs (genetically modified organisms), antibiotics or hormones, and she follows organic and humanely-raised practices.  Something we can all get behind.

We got to sample pork that was raised on Kim's farm and prepared by the Chef de Cuisine of Blackbird, David T. Posey.  The dish consisted of pork loin al'tonato with arugula, truffled peach, olives, red onion, and lemon vinaigrette - one of the tastiest bites of food I have ever had the pleasure of eating.  

Collaboration of Faith Farms pork & Chef de Cuisine of Blackbird

I will be at the Festival all day Saturday - you can find me in the Artisan's tent working with the Tiny But Mighty crew & snapping photos of all the action - not to mention enjoying some awesome food & a few craft beers.  Farmer Gene (my uncle) and his wife Lynn (my aunt) will also be on hand at the TBM booth so come say hello & try some seriously tasty popcorn.  Hope to see you all there!

Farmer Gene, Aunt Lynn & I | Tiny But Mighty Popcorn booth at Chipotle Cultivate 2012

Cultivate | Lincoln Park

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