Blueberry Season!

There is something so perfectly summery about the month of August, underscored this year by Chicago's disappointingly cool season so far. It seems everyone is anxious to stretch daylight hours to the max. Works seems a little less important, and as the humidity peaks, beaches, ball games and festivals make their last stand.

But for me, August marks peak season for my favorite fruit- the blueberry. I can remember watching my dad pile on the fruit, dressing up his ordinary breakfast cereal. My Nana playfully gave him the nickname 'the blueberry kid' early on... and I must have inherited the same berry-worshipping gene. Even my first swimsuit featured a cartoon bushel of blueberries prominently across the chest.

It wasn't until I saw Charlie and the Chocolate Factory that I considered my habit of eating blueberries like M&Ms could be remotely dangerous....but I suppose that it's this limited seasonality of the fruit that directly influences my addiction. The month of August welcomes, in opinion, the choicest blueberries, where large orbs are sugar sweet and smaller berries intersperse just the right mix of tart berry tang.
At the farmer's market recently, I ran into my usual trap. One bushel became two and soon I had more than my ample share of blueberries stocking the fridge. That's when a few classic coffee cake recipes can really come in handy to showcase blueberries at their peak. It's simple recipes like this Cooking Light version that truly shine when blueberries are right in season. That is, if you can keep them around long enough to add to the batter!

Cooking Light's Blueberry Coffee Cake Recipe:
8 servings (I adapted this to smaller squares backed out of a square pan)

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour (about 6 3/4 ounces)
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup granulated sugar
6 tablespoons butter, softened
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 large egg
1 large egg white
1 1/3 cups low-fat buttermilk
(It's recommended that a little less is used if fruit is peak season, to prevent it from sinking to the bottom of the cake batter)
Cooking spray
2 cups fresh blueberries
(I actually used about 1 1/2 fresh blueberries and a handful of raspberries to brighten the color)
1 tablespoon turbinado sugar (Yes, this DOES make a difference in appearance and really helps the dish look polished in the end)

1. Preheat oven to 350°.

2. Lightly spoon flour into dry measuring cups; level with a knife. Combine flour, baking powder, soda, and salt, stirring with a whisk.

3. Place granulated sugar and butter in a large bowl; beat with a mixer at medium speed until well blended (about 2 minutes). Add vanilla, egg, and egg white; beat well. Add flour mixture and buttermilk alternately to sugar mixture, beginning and ending with flour mixture; mix after each addition.

4. Spoon half of the batter into a 9-inch round baking pan coated with cooking spray. Sprinkle evenly with 1 cup blueberries. Spoon remaining batter over the blueberries; sprinkle evenly with remaining 1 cup blueberries. Sprinkle the top evenly with 1 tablespoon turbinado sugar. Bake at 350° for 50 minutes or until a wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool in pan 10 minutes on a wire rack; remove from pan. Cool completely on wire rack.


Lollapalooza snacks!

I'm thrilled to share a little tidbit from Gaper's Block for my fellow local Chicagoans...and music lovers who like to eat!

Before wandering down for what looks to be the best- if not the hottest- of Lollapalooza's three delightful days of music, check out Fox and Obel for some picnic snacks.

On Sunday afternoon, the gourmet grocer is receiving encouragement by The Carrot Mob, an org that supports 'buy-cotts' or movements to reward local businesses for their environmentally and socially conscious business practices, is descending on Fox and Obel. The store, who already embraces everything from organics to LED lighting, is truly outstanding in their efforts to reduce their carbon footprint.

So join me and grab your music fest munchies and support an outstanding grocer and a solid organization at the same time. Isn't buying power a delicious thing?!


As a follow up to my previous post, a few of the highlights from the Chef's BBQ:

Crofton on Wells was the most surprising winner in my 'classic barbeque with a twist' category. I wasn't too familiar with this long standing restaurant, known for contemporary American cuisine presented with French classical technique. Their offering, a mildly earthy, slightly gamey rabbit sausage made me never want a hot dog again. Topped with pickled fennel and mustard seed, the simple elements that together make a the classic 'brat and kraut' combo, the petite bun was dressed instead in a more refined coat that complimented but hardly overshadowed the subtle meat. Served alongside the dog was a hard cider 'sno cone' in a nostolgic paper cup (courtesy of Seedling Farm's new frozen orchard-based treats).

Another shot of the rabbit sausages before plating, proving you don't need to be fancy to taste so darn good. Another surprise of the day was the Goddess and the Grocer's table. In addition to an addictive purple potato salad, that hinted at mustard and vinegar rather than mayo, they served up housemade pickles, cucumbers and beets married together as a tangy relish salad. I only wish I could have toted this jar along to half the barbeque tables, using the lightly brined veggies as a finisher. Kudos to my favorite gourmet deli for carry out--- I'll be looking to you for the sides to our next summer cookout!

Alas, while I could dissect more and more from this night, new meals have overtaken old and I must move on!

Until then, cheers!