2011 Nominee Breakout Chefs of the Year – Dan Pancake & Beth Partridge


Welcome to our blog!

[dropcap1]W[/dropcap1]elcome to the blog for Autre Monde Cafe and The Greenhouse Project. We are so excited to bring you the “official” debut of the blog. We will be posting weekly updates as we get through the last two months of construction and pre-opening planning. We truly want to make this a valuable blog to follow for those who are passionate about food & drink and maintaining their quality and integrity by celebrating the sources and ultimately the manifestations.

see some of the design inspiration for Autre Monde Cafe


Next week will post some pictures of kitchen construction and possibly the dining room, in the mean time we would like to give a shout out to our amazing design team who bring the look of this blog to you. Thanks to Margot and Kirsten and ultimately Wolf who pulls it all together with the techie stuff. If you are looking for a great design for your blog check out www.autremondecafe.net and sign up for his soon to be launched website which will showcase some of his finer work.

Stay tuned for updates and thanks for joining us on our adventure!


We’re Back….Greenhouse 2012 and more…..

So we have been out of the mix for a bit playing post holiday catch up and waiting out the winter, but Spring is upon us…..at least very soon so we are back and have our first full official season with the Greenhouse. We are very excited to share the full planning process. This year we are fortunate to have a few additional advisors that we have met since we opened who are helping us upgrade our soil mix and plant & propagate our seedlings. Our soil supplies were picked up from Brew N Grow (one in the city and one in Roselle) a great source for organic soils, vermiculite, kelp and other healthy additives at reasonable prices. Thanks to the mild winter we also had some herbs that survived in the greenhouse which we will be bringing back for a second season, wonderful to have this ability.

Our Soil Mix

To date we have cleared out the greenhouse and prepped some new hand made planter boxes, picked up the necessary ingredients for the recommended organic soil mix, designed for greenhouse gardening (thanks Barb & Stacy). We also have received our first two rounds of seeds for planting seedlings from our favs, Seed Savers and Johnny’s Seeds. We also have plans to order some additional herb seeds & plants from Richter’s and of course round out our selection from the Oak Park Conservatory Herb & Plant Sale in May. You can check past blog entries for more info on all of these. Some of the tomatoes and other seedlings we plant will be transferred to Cakeridge Farms (our chefs Ohio farm) for the season. We also have plans to increase our plantable space via more planter boxes inside & outside the patio.

We will also be making some visits to our farm partners in Illinois and John & I will be heading to Italy & Croatia at the end of the month for VinItaly and some other tasting and research as we move into the spring menu & wine list. We will share our experience in a special series of entries in April. We will also be sharing a lot of tips and updates from the greenhouse and more beginning in the next week or so. Glad to be back to the greenhouse and looking forward to sharing our first full season with you.


Winterizing the Greenhouse

This week we are working on a new menu but on the greenhouse front we have been winterizing in the hopes of carrying on through at least December and hopefully through the whole winter. We are constructing some simple screen bottom planter boxes with handles, about 12 inches deep. This should maximize our growing area and make moving things around simpler.

We have also hung grow lights on one side of the greenhouse as we have learned that we need both regular sun and grow lights to make plants the most happy in the winter months.
Additionally we will be insulating the bottom of the greenhouse with hay bales so that we can insulate from wind as a draft, we have been told by a greenhouse expert is a winter plants worst enemy. We will also be installing a small heater and placing an open rain barrel we have cut in half inside to increase humidity.

Lastly we bought a very cool 80 gallon rolling composter for a very inexpensive $49 at costco. We will compost all of the summer tomato plants and other seasonal plants as well as various kitchen veg scraps to create compost to help fertilize our winter greenhouse. Last great tip we got was to place a few bricks inside the composter which will ensure we keep the organic matter inside moving around. Great tips and stay tuned for some photos of the winter greenhouse.
Next week we begin a short blog series from Chef Pancake reflecting back on the time he and Chef Partridge lived and cooked in Spain. Should be a great set of stories!


A Look Back at our Best Summer Cocktails

Med Mojito

As promised we are recapping our favorite summer cocktails inspired by the greenhouse, the Med Mojito, the Cucumber Fizz & the Berry Basil. These drinks were inspired by a combination of great herb varieties that flourished in the greenhouse and the fun products we discovered this past season. There is no doubt that muddling, infusions and hand crafted simple syrups were a big part of our summer bag of tricks. The most important thing to remember is to master the muddle. Don’t eviscerate your herbs, muddle them gently and they will yield the best flavor. Many of you will remember one or the other and we hope you will tuck these away for next year. Certainly, the leaves are falling but before we know it summer will be here again and these should provide some needed inspiration just in time to cool you off……tuck them away for a sunny day….cheers!

Med Mojito

Ingredients (makes one drink)

2.5 Oz Pyrat Rum
1 sprig Fresh Mint (we grew a special Mojito variety – lot’s of room to experiment here)
1.5 oz. Simple Syrup
Club soda
Ice

Method

Gently muddle mint leaves with simple syrup, enough to break up leaves and release essential oils. Pour 1/2 of muddled mixture into bottom of collins glass, fill glass 1/2 way with ice. Pour in rest of mint/syrup mixture, fill to top with ice.
Add Pyrat rum, fill to top with club soda, serve!

Cucumber Fizz

This drink was inspired by the discovery of Crop Organic Cucumber Vodka & the cucumbers we grew in a hanging basket in the greenhouse. This is a sure fire summer refresher (we recommend it in a Pimm’s Cup as well).

Ingredients

Crop Organic Cucumber Vodka
1 sprig fresh Thyme
3 or 4 Lemon Verbena Leaves
Simple syrup
Club Soda or Ginger Beer
Persian cucumber slice (cut lenghtwise into thin strip)
Ice

Method

Muddle lemon verbena & thyme just enough to release their essence and bring them together with the simple syrup. Pour 1/2 mixture in bottom of collins glass. Add cucumber vodka add ice to top of glass and add the rest of syrup mixture. Fill to top with your choice of club soda, ginger beer or a combination of the two. Garnish with slice of Persian Cucumber.

Berry Vodka Cooler

2 oz. House Infused Rasberry Vodka ( 1 pint OP Farmer’s Market Raspberries, vodka – infused in infusion bottle for a minimum of 72 hrs – flavor intensifies the longer you leave it in).
1 oz Jo Snow Strawberry Basil Syrup
3 leaves Fresh Basil (We used Genovese)
1 slice lime
4 oz Club soda
Ice

Berry Basil Cooler

Our next blog discussion will be all about wine and our upcoming wine dinner. After that look for a short series in November from Chef Dan Pancake sharing their culinary experiences living and working in Spain.

Method

Gently muddle Basil leaves with Jo Snow Syrup. Just enough to bruise the leaves and release their essential oils). Place in martini shaker with ice, add house infused raspberry vodka & club soda. Stir to combine ingredients, pour into highball glass, garnish with lime and enjoy!


Readying the Greenhouse for Fall

So about a week ago we looked around and realized that it was fast becoming fall. Time to clear out the tomatoes and peppers and ready the greenhouse for fall. On a cooler night when the patio was not open I snuck out back to work on this project. In about 5 hrs or so we had cleared out about 15 tomato plants and many of the peppers. We left the Tom Thumbs and a few other tomato plants that were still producing fruit and replanted a number of the herbs. We also started some chard and winter greens and planted some mums. We are also planting some brussels sprouts outside the greenhouse in the planter that to now held basil.
Next week we will be installing a small ceramic heater and grow lights in the greenhouse to extend the season. We will see how long we can stretch things out, but are pretty sure we should be able to extend the growing season at least until December. We are also scheduling a big planning session in January to develop a grow list and design some new growing vessels for the patio. We hope to grow some flowers for a cutting garden as well as vastly increasing our grow space for herbs. We are also collaborating with a guest/local gardener who will be growing some vegetables and herbs for us in her organic garden. Her produce which we sampled this year is beautiful! We are also considering a rooftop garden or a plot at the Berwyn Community Gardens but have to see if we can take that on as well.
Overall we feel we have learned a lot from this first summer season and have had loads of fun with our first season in the greenhouse. One of the main learning lessons from this year is that it is important to tame the desire to grow everything possible in the greenhouse. Overloading it can cramp the plants and limit their production. We have also learned to deal with basic pests (the dreaded tomato worm and a few other little pests) . The easiest way to deal with them is to “squish” them either between your fingers or underfoot. You can also introduce beneficial bugs such as ladybugs but it is easiest and most efficient to do things the old fashioned way.
One of our other successes from the early season (after stutter stepping several times) is the green wall on the side of the building. We tried ivy at first but it burned. We then tried transplants of clematis from a friends garden but it failed to root. Finally we gave in and had a professional landscaper install clematis on little starter trellises and those finally took off. The key to clematis is to protect the roots with mulch and keep them moist…….the soaker hose is your friend. You also want to know what type of clematis (1, 2 or 3) you are planting as each has different pruning requirement. Some are less labor intensive than others. We plant to cover the planter boxes for the winter to protect the soil from salt and the elements and then apply some organic plant food in the spring. We have heard that if they take the first year they grow like crazy in subsequent years, time will tell but we hope that is the case.
The next blog post will include some of the cocktail recipes inspired by the greenhouse this summer. Stay tuned!


Pasta 101 Class Recap & Recipes

As promised we are back to share some insights and recipes from our very first cooking class, Pasta 101. In this class Chef Dan Pancake took participant through a hands on journey in making fresh pasta, cutting noodles, filling a ravioli style pasta and making a few simple summer sauces. After the students were finished with their time in the kitchen, they moved to the dining room to enjoy the fruits of their labor as cooked for them by Dan. Paired with Med wines selected by owner and wine director John Aranza it was the perfect way to spend a Saturday afternoon. As we are in the height of tomato season, we thought we would share with you a basic pasta dough recipe and a toasted garlic, tomato sauce that showcases the height of Italian simplicity and yields a delicious dish. We have been making this all summer with tomatoes from the Greenhouse, Cakeridge Farms and the local farmers market. We hope you enjoy it as much as we do!

Making Pasta from Scratch

Making pasta dough from scratch is quick and produces excellent results. There are several variables that affect the final product:
? Flour type and grind
? Eggs (whole, yolks)
? Ambient conditions in the kitchen
? Additives to the pasta dough (spinach, beet, etc…)
The most critical variable is flour. At Autre Monde, we use only Farina “00”, which is a hard, Winter durham type wheat flour. The “00” refers to the size of the grind, and is the finest flour available. Ours is imported from Italy, and can be found at Italian specialty shops in the area.
Basic Fresh Pasta Dough Recipe:
1 kg 00 Flour
8 ea Whole large eggs
4 ea Egg yolks
2 Tbl Extra Virgin Olive Oil (EVOO)
This dough can be made easily in a stand mixer with a dough hook, by starting with the eggs and olive oil in the bowl. Mix until combined, then add the flour and watch for the dough to come together in a smooth ball. Wet or dry dough can be corrected by adding a small amount of flour, or another egg yolk. Ambient conditions (mostly humidity) can have a significant impact on how much moisture the dough will require.
Remove the dough from the mixer and turn out onto a lightly floured surface. Knead the dough until smooth and elastic. Wrap in plastic and refrigerate for 30 minutes prior to use.

Chef Pancake Demos Saucing Technique

RECIPES FOR TODAY

Napolitano Style Fresh Tomato Sauce Serves 4

1 lb Fresh Pasta dough
1 pt Ripe cherry tomatoes (e.g., Sun Golds, Juliets, Sweet 100s)
1 tsp Minced fresh garlic
2 Tbl Fresh basil, chiffonade
1 TT EVOO
½ Cup Grated Parmigiano Reggiano (Grana Padano or Pecorino will work)
1 TT Sea salt/Kosher salt and Cracked Black Pepper (can sub Pepperoncino)

Slice the cherry tomatoes in half, and crush each with your fingers, into a large bowl. Add the garlic, basil, EVOO, cheese, salt & pepper. Reserve at room temperature.
Roll out the pasta into desired shape (Tagliatelle, chitarra, stracci). Bring 5-6 qts of salted water to a boil and cook the pasta for 3-4 minutes or until just tender. Strain the pasta, and reserve the pasta water.
Toss the hot pasta into the bowl with the fresh sauce and cheese. Let sit for 1-2 minutes, until the sauce coats the pasta.
Divide the pasta between 4 plates, and add additional cheese is desired. Drizzle with EVOO.

Chef discusses results with the class.


Lots of Good to Come from the Greenhouse

Cilantro & French Breakfast Radishes

Well, we just couldn’t be more pleased with our opening few weeks. It has been so nice to meet so many of our neighbors and to hear that many of you are as excited as we are that we are here, so a big thank you for all the support. With that said we have neglected our blog duties for last week but we are back with an update on everything we have growing in and around the greenhouse as well as an update on the mural and the patio ETA.
Also I know many of you have asked about signage and it should be installed by this Friday, until then, you know where we are!

It is exciting to see many of our plant begin to bear fruit. Lots of the tomatoes are flowering and/or fruiting and the peppers as well. We also have loads of herb and veg seedling that we plan to transplant to a friends beds to keep us supplied with additional herbs for the rest of the season. The greenhouse has proved to be invaluable in providing some climate stasis for our plants which have been trying to keep up with the crazy weather patterns of this season. To date our only major challenge was dealing with some aphids on a cucumber plant and some arugula. This is what we discovered was best, isolate the affected plant (ie: get it out of the greenhouse. Do not try soapy water on the leaves (it will burn them) introduce ladybugs (they can deal with the problem in a fashion that only mother nature can create) or use a mild organic pesticide and then allow the afflicted plant to rest and hopefully recover. Water and proper feeding will help.

We are really looking forward to using our tomatoes and peppers in the coming months. At present we have 18 varieties of heirlooms, 10 different varieties of peppers, a number of herbs, fennel, lettuces, caper bushes, a lemon tree, zucchini, cucumber and a Ponderosa lemon tree that is growing by leaps and bounds from the little seedling we purchased back in may. The pear mint & Kaliteri Oregano plants have begun to flourish and we look forward to using them in the second half of the season.

We also have a handmade pasta class coming up on July 16th at noon. Participants will learn how to make dough, use a pasta roller, cut noodles and fill a ravioli. All capped off with lunch and wine. Give us a call at 708-775-8122 if you would like to attend or email us at info@autremondecafe.net.

Our patio is slated to open in a week or two and we hope to introduce weekend brunch in August. It’s shaping up to be a fun and busy summer! If you haven’t been in yet we hope to see you soon!


Sprouting, Seeds and Other Early Greenhouse Observations

[dropcap1]W[/dropcap1]ell, its no secret that the weather has been less than desirable for sun-starved Chicagoans, anxiously awaiting summer. However, it has been a good opportunity to enjoy what a greenhouse can offer in this up and down weather. First off……the extra few degrees we gain in the greenhouse has been great for sprouting seeds and keeping our smaller tomato plants healthy and happy. Rain?…..What Rain? Our lettuces and arugula have also been growing like crazy, which tells us that a rooftop garden will indeed be on the project list for 2012. With that said big thanks to Robin our resident volunteer and we welcome Lauren our greenhouse intern who will spend her summer helping us keep things green, happy and organized in the greenhouse. We are grateful to have her aboard.

We also made good use of our first order from Johnny’s Seeds, with a successful first run of Radish Sprouts using a simple sprouting jar. It basically boils down to soak, rinse & drain (2x a day) for 4-5 days and then a few hours in the sun to let the chlorophyll activate and get some color into the sprouts. Then a quick rinse to pick out any remaining seed pods and refrigerate. The Daikon sprouts have a great peppery flavor to add a little heat and color to dishes.

We also saw the first round of seeds spring up from the seeds we purchased from Richter’s greenhouse in British Columbia (still waiting for our caper bushes, pear mint and Kalieteri Oregano plants – they won’t ship until the weather warms up a little more, we are hoping this week). For seedlings we have Neapolitan basil popping up as well as some of the longstanding cilantro (has less of a tendency to bolt). From Johnny’s we started the Par-cel (cutting celery) seeds and some D’Avignon radishes which are a variety of French breakfast radish that likes to grow in greenhouses, we thought we would test that out.

To keep our likelihood of success higher, the seed varieties we are selecting this year have a very high germination rate (over 90%) which helps our chances of success in growing them into healthy, happy plants.

We also transplanted some heirloom plants grown by a local Berwynite and are watching those with anticipation. We have just loads of tomato plants and should be serving up lots of delicious varieties this summer and into fall. Cakeridge farms is growing some additional plants for us, so we are looking forward to those veggies & herbs too!


A DIY Weekend – New Fence, Pavers and Greenhouse….all in Four Days!

[dropcap1]O.K.[/dropcap1]so we are a little late with this weeks blog post but it was all with good reason. Starting last Friday, we began an epic push to get the back of the property ready for the greenhouse. This included erecting a new wood fence (posts and all), laying pavers and of course assembling the greenhouse. All with the help of a very few dedicated family and friends (thank you Scott, Patrick and Don!!!). Also thanks to our cousin Pete for hooking us up with the gravel. Lastly, thank you Robin for helping with the landscaping and the first round of plants! The real hero here however is my husband John, who tirelessly led the charge over four days to make sure we got this all done in a weekend, truly an amazing effort. I think it may be from all the DIY shows he has been watching lately but whatever it is I like it!

So with the thank-yous out of the way lets get on with the story of building the greenhouse. The fence was needed to protect the greenhouse and get the rest of the back ready for a patio, we chose pavers for underneath the greenhouse so that the natural drainage through the stones and underlying gravel would make sense for watering. Our research has shown that many greenhouse owners place their greenhouse right on the ground but we felt it would be better to try and stretch the season and protect our greenhouse from the Chicago winters with a little elevation. We also purchased a solar powered light so that we can work in the greenhouse at night if need be with no need to use power. We will give you the review on that after we have test driven it for a while.

The greenhouse we chose is an 8×12 Aluminum frame with UV panels in the ceiling and polycarbonate walls which are under warranty for 10 years, The roof has two vent panels and there are two entry doors as well as a fan. All of these will assist in controlling humidity and temperature inside the greenhouse. We have ordered a shade cloth (allows for protection of plants from burning in the sun) and a temp/humidity thermometer which should be here any day. Humidity we are learning is of most concern in the actual soil of each plant. Roots must be watched to ensure that the humidity does not cause rot. We also plan to order a gutter system for the greenhouse which will get it very own rain barrel (only seems to make sense). We also have power and water on the back of the building to allow for us to extend the season and perhaps even make the greenhouse a four season affair. We will let the summer dictate the potential to make this happen.

Thursday thru Saturday were all about the fence and laying the flooring for the greenhouse. The flooring consisted of a digging a 9×13, 5 inch depth, hole dug into the back patio which was filled with pea gravel and levelled using a tamper. Once that was done we could lay the pavers (a good arm workout but not much fun otherwise). Once we had the pavers laid, we swept a bag of sand over the top to assist with leveling the flooring as it settled. We weren’t sure if the weather would hold for another day, but Sunday morning, if you recall was beautiful and sunny so we set out to assemble the greenhouse.

Our particular model (ordered online at JustGreenhouses – we recommend, better prices, no tax and free shipping) came in three large boxes. One contained the panels and the two doors. The second contained the shelves, the third contained a dizzying array of hardware and aluminum pieces with names like G05Q, G07T, S28 and P03. You know your in trouble when you see that……..organization was going to be key if we were going to survive this adventure. In about 45 minutes we had set up our system, relegating the shelving to the side, holding the doors & panels in another box and laying out all of the other “parts” library style on a big tarp. By placing all the pieces in alpha-numeric order we were able to minimize the confusion as we worked our way through the 56 page manual.

Armed with a drill, driver and a few provided allen and crescent wrenches we set about our task. Feeling very much like Vanna White, John would call out his letter/number combo and I would pull them for him. After about two hours we had the first wall built. An hour later we had both end walls built. Then onto the frame. This took most of the day to build and reinforce. We soldiered on for about 11 hrs (probably could have been less if we had lined up the requisite assistants) and finally gave in at the very end when sliding in the side panels was beginning to feel like rocket science. Alas, a little sunburned & chilly we threw in the towel and went home to a hot shower and dead sleep.

On Monday, John took pity on me since I had been battling a cold and let me sleep in. He went back and finished the panels in a few hours. As it turns out, in our stupor the night before we had tightened the reinforcing cables incorrectly which had pitched the frame out of line a bit. With fresh eyes in the AM, John spotted this immediately and had the rest of the greenhouse put together in no time. I awoke to a fully built greenhouse and immediately set about populating it with seed trays and small plants. Our plan is to use the greenhouse to start herbs that we will transplant to larger planter boxes outside the greenhouse to increase yield, as well as keeping tender lettuces, the lemon tree we are hoping to grow, caper bushes, heirlooms, little cukes and other fun things as we come across them.

To sum up the experience, like most things worth doing, as soon as it was built we forgot the pain of getting there. Our advice to would be greenhouse owners at this point would be to line up as much help as possible and get in a Zen frame of mind and you should be able to make it through the adventure of greenhouse assembly without too much pain.

Now the fun part begins, we will see what we know & don’t know about using this new tool at the restaurant. We are a little less than a month from opening so soon we can let you know exactly how we use our plants. We have lined up a botany focused intern to help us as we move forward and think this will become a permanent offering. We will introduce you to her next week.
 Until then……..

(click on image to see slideshow of the building process)








Spring Has Sprung….Local Community Gardens, Herb Sales & More….

This week we are focusing on the larger local food picture. Through our Greenhouse Project and the blog, we have connected with loads of locals who embody the urban farm spirit. It seems that Berwyn, Forest Park and Oak Park each have unique offerings to help fledgling urban gardeners get a leg up on the local movement. Both Berwyn and Forest Park are launching amped up Community Garden programs this year and Oak Park is already known for its Farmer’s Market. Also, what has become an annual annual tradition for our home garden, the Oak Park Conservatory’s Annual Herb & Plant sale. In this entry we get in depth with our local gardening brigade and bring you the highlights of the upcoming season and details on opportunities to participate in volunteer initiatives, claiming your own plot, classes, sales and more. Oh, and we are still working at breakneck speed to open our doors to you soon.

As a Berwyn business focused on such things, we were thrilled to here about the expanded community garden initiative headed by local businessman Jose Ramirez in conjunction with The Berwyn Park District. Their goal is simple, to create, support and promote community gardening within the City of Berwyn, IL. The partnership between the Park District and the Community Gardens Project is designed to help develop and maintain plots of land that will be made available to Berwyn residents. The residents will be able to rent out these plots seasonally for their gardening needs. Contact information and forms to acquire a plot are available via the organizations Facebook page which can be found here. The gardens are located at Serenity Park (26th and Wesley) and are about 1/2 rented for the season, so if you are interested act now!

We have also been fortunate enough to have met by Debbie Kong, a supporter of our greenhouse initiative, who is heading the St. John’s Community Garden in conjunction with the school, parish leadership and ideally the larger Forest Park Community. Debbie is wholly qualified to lead this initiative as she will complete the Master Gardener program at U of I Extension this May. She has also been traveling and training teachers and healthcare workers how to set up gardens, build, manage and sustain them and of course evangelizing the many benefits of urban gardening. She is passionate about her work and quite inspirational. (more…)