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  • Written by Madelaine Bullwinkel



We decided to forgo the 926 mile trip to New Orleans for Mardi Gras again this year.  We did what we always do: create our own special carnival experience up here in the cold, grey Chicago.  It's easier than you might think.   First, get out your beads, strew some pirate doubloons on the dining table with a few fancy masks and put on carnival music. Then go into the kitchen.  Mardi Gras is not just about parades with confetti. It's about the food!

A group of celebrants proved this point on a weekday morning recently in Allie Field's spacious Downers Grove kitchen.  I provided the ingredients for a classic New Orleans meal. There was crabmeat and Creole spice for our starter course, round steak with its 'holy trinity' of vegetables (onion, celery, green pepper) for our Cajun grillades and the stale round of French bread for a rich, lemony bread pudding.  The jar of brandy, sugar and spices was there to flame the Cafe Brulot.  The recipes were all there for a reason.


The Crabcake recipe came from Chicago's popular Shaw's Crab House where I spent a morning learning how to cook crab with executive chef Ives Roubaud.  The N'Awlins Remoulade that's paired with it was adapted from Susan Spicer's book Crescent City Cooking.  A meal at Susan's restaurant  Bayona is a must when I visit New Orleans.

When I first began collecting recipes for Mardi Gras, I contacted my college classmate and New Orleans native Jane Mathes.  She recommended a spicy braised round steak dish, Grillades, which is served with Grits at a Sunday Sinners Brunch she attends with her husband Earl before Fat Tuesday.  It's relatively easy to assemble and tastes better with each reheating.  It's become a staple.


The Lemon Bread Pudding was my own invention.  A rich custard pudding is classic fare at the end of a festive meal.  Instead of folding in chocolate or serving the traditional whiskey sauce I prefer a refreshingly tart lemon curd and sour dried cherries combination.  It always ends the meal on a bright note.

Where's the gumbo, you ask?  Well, as a matter of fact, we're going to be preparing Mr Paul's Duck, Sausage and Oyster Gumbo this Saturday at Read It and Eat on North Halsted in Chicago.  Join us as we let the good times roll once again!

Links to the recipes:

Crabcakes with N'Awlins Rémoulade

Grillades and Grits

Lemon Bread Pudding with Dried Cherries

Café Brulot

*A special thanks to Allie's sister, Amy Tripple, who took the photographs of our menu.  Amy is a most talented professional photographer of children and familys.  She was kind enough to take pictures as she cooked.  You can see her work at:

Amy Tripple Photography






  • Written by Madelaine Bullwinkel


Campbells Soup

Grocery shopping was a lot easier when we innocently pulled a familiar brand off the shelf.  Today  packages claiming its contents are fat-free or gluten-free or non-GMO give us choices we may have never before considered.  Some day you may need to bring a magnifying glass to the store to read the detailed disclaimers on food labels. Surely I exaggerate.  Two recent stories in the news suggest otherwise.

Just after my last post, Campbell Soup announced it will soon disclose the presence of genetically altered ingredients across all its brands which include Prego and Pepperidge Farm.  It's the first giant food company to break the code of silence since the FDA made GMO disclosure voluntary.  In a challenge that's sure to resonate in the food additive industry, Greek yogurt maker Chobani has begun a market campaign that mocks Yoplait and Dannon for their use of additives in competing 100 calorie products.  Those are fighting words.

Campbell Soup's step toward transparency is partly a response to the success of the Non-GMO movement whose voluntary verification project insignia appears on foods that contain 5% or less genetically altered ingredients.  It also heralds the arrival in July of a Vermont law requiring manufacturers announce the presence of GMO ingredients on their product labels. Since there is presently no federal law to serve as an umbrella, imagine the chaos and expense it will cause if this law is passed in some states and not in others. Studies have revealed that consumers do want to know if products have been genetically altered, but there's little research on how that information will effect sales.

 For the record, Monsanto has been selling corn and soybean seeds with an added gene that allows them to produce their own insecticide and herbicide. Since 1999 these have been planted over millions of acres worldwide.  Large scale growth of GMO crops now include canola, sugar beets and cotton. Interestingly enough, Monsanto continues to sell the same insecticides and herbicides transgenic seeds were intended to eliminate. Nature still manages to keep the upper hand.

My point is that none of us are GMO virgins. It's too late to ask whether the addition of one or two genes among thousands that make up a genome presents a threat to our health. The FDA's scientists say that it's not a problem, for now.  Meanwhile the technology that permits splicing and gene insertion is becoming more sophisticated making it likely that more transgenic foods will come up for approval in the future.

When consumers do read food labels, half the ingredients are most likely a mystery to all but the chemists. The FDA has approved what amounts to a food additive cabinet of more than 3000 synthetic chemicals.  Gutsy little Chobani had the temerity to malign two additives used by its giant rivals knowing it would alarm consumers. Sure enough, General Mills Corp. Yoplait's parent company and Danone that owns Dannon brand slapped Chobani with "cease and desist" orders for false advertising.

The additives in question are: potassium sorbate (in Yoplait) which retards spoilage but has been used to kill bed bugs, and sucralose (in both brands), a generic form of Splenda. Sucralose contains three sweetness-enhancing chlorine molecules that allegedly pass through the body without a caloric effect.  Chobani's ad implies that even their presence is dangerous.  No harm done? Maybe not.  But if Chobani can make a six ounce container of yogurt with 100 calories and without additives who needs the additives?  Oh, it's not sweet enough for you? Ahhh. That's a topic for a future blog.

Chobani Yogurt




  • Written by Madelaine Bullwinkel



A big fish story in the news just before Christmas featured the enormous salmon pictured above.  It's an Atlantic salmon that has been genetically modified to grow twice its normal rate.  After a decade of deliberation, the FDA approved this salmon for sale without any restrictions or labeling requirements.  When this creature comes to market, the consumer will once again have lost the ability to know exactly what they are buying.  If this subject is new to you, check out my post from three years ago. (Link)

There's more. Monday's NYTimes contained a story about two start-up businesses in Anchorage Alaska that are growing hydroponic lettuce for winter consumption. For the first time consumers in a state that imports 90% of its produce can eat lettuce that hasn't frozen en route. One of these small businesses even sells growing units to salad lovers and restaurants. An editorial in the same section of the Times calls for more research to boost our country's stalled agricultural production. It's authors advocate a "green revolution" suggesting projects like eliminating the loss of poultry flocks to avian flu epidemics, treating animals with probiotics rather than antibiotics and developing water-based coatings for lettuce to prevent food poisoning.

The "green revolution" in the 1940's was a benefit to the public and agribusiness.  Will a second revolution allow for public  oversight?  Without full disclosure by farmers, food processors and suppliers, consumers are left to make their food choices without knowing what is actually in the ingredients they purchase.

Author and activist Michael Pollan analysed these issues in the course of writing three books* and came up with a set of what he calls "Food Rules".  They have become my mantra. The first one is, "Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants." "Food" according to Pollan is any fresh ingredient or a manufactured product that contains no more than five ingredients, all of them pronouncable. Everything else in the grocery is a "food product", a creation of the food industry.  It's as easy as reading the label on the package.

For a complete list of Pollan's rules, I refer you to his slender book, Food Rules. (there are about fifty of them).  Here are some additional practices you may find helpful:

1. Check sell by dates on dairy goods and packaged greens. A useful window is a week to ten days ahead. Use by or best before dates on packaged goods are worth noting but are less important. The manufacturer places them there for quality assurance. It's still safe to eat them past that date. Whether or not they're still as tasty is another question.

2. Avoid fruits and vegetables that are cut up or frozen when fresh whole ones are available.  Choosing a different ingredient for a cut-up or damaged one is preferable. I search out firm, heavy for its size, unbruised produce, potatoes without cuts and mushrooms that are unblemished.  It takes a little more time, but it's worth it.

3. Ask the butcher for for beef that is grass fed (not finished on grain) and poultry and pork not treated with antibiotics. The freshest fish is wild-caught, not previously frozen and delivered that day. (Farmed salmon is now the norm year-round. Ask about the environmental practices of the farmed operation.) A butcher or fishmonger should be proud to tell you about the quality of their products. If they can't tell you, find a market that will.

To paraphrase the French gastronomer Brillat-Savarin, 'you are what you eat'.

Happy Shopping in the New Year!


* Books by Michael Pollan: The Omnivore's Dilemna, In Defense of Food, An Eater's Manifesto and Cooked, A Natural History of Transformation.