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Food We Love: A Chicago chef’s guide to the farmers market, plus summer recipes

Welcome to Food We Love, our Sun-Times video series featuring stories about Chicagoans family food traditions, secret recipes, special ingredients and unusual favorite dishes.  Each week we’ll hear a new story about food and family and learn some amazing recipes that you can try at home. Our host is Chicago journalist Linda Yu who loves cooking at home, as well as exploring new restaurants throughout the city.  

Today’s episode:  An insider tour of the farmers market.

Join Linda Yu every week for cooking and conversation on Food We Love.

Join Linda Yu every week for cooking and conversation on Food We Love.

A Chicago chef’s insider tour of a farmers market

“It tastes like candy! ” That’s what Chef Christine Cikowski and I both exclaimed when we each popped a Sun Gold tomato into our mouths.

We were at Green City Market in Chicago’s Lincoln Park, one of Chef Christine’s favorite places to shop for her Honey Butter Fried Chicken restaurant.  If you’ve never gone to a farmers market and tried just-picked local produce, you may never have compared the taste of a tomato to candy. But the burst of sweetness is a very happy surprise if you’re accustomed to mass produced bland-tasting tomatoes. Christine walked me around the market to learn how to shop there and gave us some delicious ideas for summer recipes.

Visiting the Green City Market

If you say you don’t have the extra time to go to a farmer’s market, taste the fresh produce and you’ll decide its worth it. Famous chefs around U.S. have called Green City Market the “best sustainable market in the country.” It began as a dream in 1998 by a group of chefs including Abby Mandel, then organized by Chef Sarah Stegner of Prairie Grass Cafe. In the spring and summer, you’ll spot the market at the southern end of Lincoln Park … but it’s now a year-round enterprise, moving to an indoor location during the fall and winter in the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum.  There are also now two other Green City Market locations: one on Saturdays in the West Loop in Mary Bartelme Park and another most Thursday nights at Gallagher Way adjacent to Wrigley Field.

Chef Christine has been shopping for organic, healthy fruits and vegetables, grown in a sustainable way, at Green City Market ever since she realized she loved cooking and feeding people. She has an appetite, an important quality for a chef — an appetite for music (ask her to sing for you), for enjoying life, for taking care of her workers, playing with her dog Dusty, and most important, an appetite for using fresh produce for her customers.

Christine Cikowski co-founder of the Honey Butter Fried Chicken restaurant and fan of farmers markets.| Victor Hilitski/For the Sun-Times

Christine Cikowski, co-founder of the Honey Butter Fried Chicken restaurant and a fan of farmers markets.| Victor Hilitski/For the Sun-Times

She’s co-owner, with business partner Josh Kulp, of Honey Butter Fried Chicken in Chicago’s Avondale neighborhood. Their counter-service restaurant has been a resounding success since the day they opened when long lines formed and hungry Chicagoans didn’t seem daunted by the wait. Some of them knew about Christine and Josh’s cooking from their 5,000-member, subscription-only Sunday Dinner Club, running now for 14 years. Nowadays, many people bring their appetites because they prefer the non-antibiotic, non-hormone Amish chicken served at Honey Butter Fried Chicken.

Christine will tell you she thought she would be a singer and then studied music business management in college, not exactly the expected route to chef stardom. But that background shows up in the harmony she creates, pairing the many fresh vegetables and fruits she finds at Green City Market. She and some of the farmers helped me understand why they care so much about what they grow.

Abby Schilling from the Mick Klug Farm (St Joseph, MI) arranging assortment of their produce at the Green City Market in Lincoln park. | Victor Hilitski/For the Sun-Times

Abby Schilling from the Mick Klug Farm in St. Joseph, Michigan, arranges an assortment of produce at the Green City Market in Lincoln Park. | Victor Hilitski/For the Sun-Times

Christine and I also stopped at some stalls that don’t sell vegetables — there are herbs, flowers, yummy cookies — and we bonded over one called Raclette. If you don’t know what that is, go to suntimes.com to find out what we couldn’t stop eating!

Christine has shared three recipes with us, all of them using ingredients from the farmers market.  One is from her Sunday Dinner Club, the other two are from Honey Butter Fried Chicken.  You can download all three and print them here:

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Farmers Market Ratatouille

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    This ratatouille recipe is from Christine Cikowski’s Sunday Dinner Club.

    Ingredients

    • 2 pounds of eggplant (preferably Japanese eggplant), cut in 1-inch pieces
    • 2 pounds of zucchini and/or summer squash , cut in 1-inch pieces
    • 1 medium red onion, cut in 1-inch pieces
    • 2 large fennel bulbs, halved, cored and cut into 1/4 inch slices
    • A couple of cloves of garlic (or more, depending on your level of garlic commitment)
    • 5 ripe large tomatoes, rough chopped
    • 2 sweet red or yellow peppers, seeded and rough chopped
    • Extra virgin olive oil
    • Kosher salt
    • Fresh cracked black pepper

    Tomatoes a part of this ratatouille recipe. | Victor Hilitski/For the Sun-Times

    Tomatoes are part of this ratatouille recipe. | Victor Hilitski/For the Sun-Times

    Directions

    Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Toss eggplant, zucchini, red onion and fennel separately with enough olive oil to lightly coat and season with salt and pepper. Spread each out on a sheet pan (don’t overcrowd the veggies!) and roast for 15-20 minutes until delicious and maybe a little golden brown. Combine roasted eggplant, zucchini, red onion and fennel and set aside.

    Next, make a tomato and pepper sauce: chop a couple of cloves of garlic and sauté in a liberal amount of olive oil until soft, then add tomatoes and peppers and simmer until soft, about 15-20 minutes. Puree the tomatoes and peppers with a stick blender until smooth and season with salt and pepper. Add eggplant, zucchini, onion and fennel mixture to the sauce and simmer together for 15 minutes or so the flavors meld together. Season to taste and add a generous splash of olive oil or a knob of butter to finish the ratatouille. Toss in some fresh basil for bonus flavor. Serves 4-6.

    You can enjoy the ratatouille mixed with pasta, in an omelet, as a side for fish or steak, cold out of a container at midnight in the kitchen in the dark, on toast, or (our personal favorite) on it’s own, warm, in a bowl with a little fresh goat cheese and grilled bread to sop it up. Enjoy!


    Asparagus Potato Salad with Lemon Dijon Dressing

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      Recipe by Joshua Kulp and Christine Cikowski of Honey Butter Fried Chicken.

      Lemon Dijon Dressing Ingredients

      • ½ cup sour cream
      • ½ cup mayonnaise
      • ¼ cup white balsamic vinegar
      • 1 tbsp. Dijon mustard
      • 1 tsp. honey
      • ½ lemon, zest and juice
      • 2 scallions, washed and rough chopped
      • 2 tbsps. basil, rough chopped
      • 2 tbsps. dill, rough chopped
      • ¼ tsp. Kosher salt

      Directions

      Place all ingredients in a blender and process until smooth.

      Chill in refrigerator for 3-5 minutes. Or, until potato salad ingredients are prepared.

      Shopping for farm fresh potatoes to be used in Christine's asparagus potato salad recipe. | Victor Hilitski/For the Sun-Times

      Shopping for farm fresh potatoes to be used in Christine’s asparagus potato salad recipe. | Victor Hilitski/For the Sun-Times

      Potato Salad Ingredients

      • 2 ½ quarts red potatoes, diced small
      • ¼ cup white balsamic vinegar
      • 1 qt. raw asparagus, sliced thin on a bias
      • ½ cup pickled red onions or raw red onion, rough chopped
      • 2 celery stalks, sliced thin on a bias
      • 8 scallions, washed and sliced thin on a bias
      • 2 tbsps. chiffonade basil, chiffonade (shredded or finely cut)
      • 2 tbsps. fresh dill, rough chopped
      • 1 ½ cups lemon Dijon dressing
      • Kosher Salt to taste
      • Black Pepper to taste

      Directions

      In a medium to large pot add potatoes to cold salted water, making sure all pieces are covered. Boil for 2 minutes. Turn burner off and let potatoes sit, testing every couple of minutes for tenderness. When desired texture achieved, drain and transfer to large mixing bowl.

      In bowl mix potatoes with vinegar, allowing to cool completely. Mix the remaining ingredients with the potatoes, and adjust seasoning as necessary to desired taste.
      Add in dressing and lightly spoon into mixture. Chill until ready to serve.

      Strawberry Dump Cake

        Photo courtesy of Jordan Ramsier

        Print

        Recipe by Joshua Kulp and Christine Cikowski of Honey Butter Fried Chicken.

        Dump Cake Sprinkle Mix Ingredients

        • ¾ cup all-purpose flour
        • ½ cup sugar
        • 1 tsp. baking powder
        • 2 tbsps. powdered milk
        • ⅛ tsp. Kosher salt

        Directions

        Combine flour, sugar, baking powder, powdered milk, and salt in a bowl. Set aside. (If making in advance, store in an airtight container at room temperature for up to a month.)

        Farm fresh Strawberries for the strawberry dump cake. | Victor Hilitski/For the Sun-Times

        Farm fresh strawberries for the strawberry dump cake. | Victor Hilitski/For the Sun-Times

        Slurry Ingredients

        • ½ cup water
        • ⅓ cup brown sugar
        • 2 tsp. vanilla extract
        • 2 tbsp. cornstarch
        • 1 ¼ lbs. strawberries, washed and hulled

        Directions

        Add water, sugar, vanilla, and cornstarch to make a slurry.

        Pour the slurry over the strawberries, then sprinkle dump cake mix evenly over the top and dot with butter.

        Brown Sugar Whipped Cream Ingredients

        • 1 cup heavy cream
        • 1 tbsp. brown sugar
        • 1 tbsp. molasses
        • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
        • Kosher salt, pinch

        Directions

        Preheat the oven to 350°F.

        Combine all ingredients in a mixer with whisk attachment and whip until the cream holds stiff peaks. Keep the cream cold until ready to serve. (A whipped cream canister can be used. Follow the canister instructions to whip.)

        Use butter or pan spray to coat 8×8 baking dish. Bake for approximately 45 minutes, until the top is golden brown and the fruit is bubbling. Allow the dump cake to rest for 5–10 minutes before serving. It will be quite hot.

        Top with brown sugar whipped cream.

        Enjoy!

        Linda Yu and Christine Cikowski at the Green City Market. | Victor Hilitski/For the Sun-Times

        Linda Yu and Christine Cikowski at the Green City Market. | Victor Hilitski/For the Sun-Times

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