Wednesday, September 30, 2009


No, not Chez Panisse, sorry Alice Waters this entry is not about you.

Google Panisse, I dare you. You'll get plenty of entries on Ms. Waters and her California restaurant but I challenge you to find out what Panisse really is.

Well, I got the pleasure of learning about Panisse from my chef Patrick Sheerin and now I'm completely enamoured with the treat.

So, what is Panisse? Its a dish that originated in the South of France. Its described by some as a pancake, a custard-like substance, even a cake. Really, it is none of those things. Panisse is simple, chickpea flour, olive oil, vegetable stock, and salt. In France it is used as a snack. Often dusted with sugar and served to children. I can't imagine it tasting great but I've never had it served this way either.

Why is Panisse great? Lots of reasons! First, the flavor is excellent. If you use finely milled chickpea flour the result will be a creamy, custardy treat on the inside of a crispy fried outside. Secondly, its a gluten free snack or side dish. At the restaurant we serve a fried bit of panisse instead of a starch with an entree. This is something to keep in mind if you have friends or family who can't eat gluten. Next, its a bit of a challenge to make and it is one of those dishes that makes you swell with a little bit of pride when you finally get it right. And finally, panisse can be manipulated and experimented with to even further enhance the flavor as you will see below.

Our first attempt at panisse was a bit of an experiment. Chef had never made one before, I had not even heard of panisse nor had our executive sous. Already we were off to great start. Pat's vision was to make a panisse that had the flavor of fennel and it was my mission to make it happen. I started by infusing the vegetable stock with lots of fennel and then went to work cooking the panisse. After a few tries we finally got the desired result. Crispy on the outside, creamy on the inside.

This month Patrick presented me with a new challenge. Make a butternut squash panisse. Fennel now seemed easy... See, squash is starchy and that changes everything. So, I set off on another panisse challenge. First, I juiced the squashes (terrible yield just for the record). I let the juice sit for an hour or two and then strained it through a fine mesh chinois. I figured that would eliminate some of my unwanted starch. I cooked the panisse, fried it, and let me tell you it was awful. Starchy and heavy and coated your teeth with orange goop. Fail.

I thought about it over night and came back to work with a plan. I juiced more squash and let it sit for an hour. I strained it. Let it sit for an hour. Strained it. Let it sit once more and strained it. Then, into the cooler it went to sit over night. The result of all this sitting and waiting and straining was a much less starchy juice. The amount of starch that settled to the bottom was startling. I guess I never knew how starchy a butternut really is.

So, with my strained, and strained, and strained, and strained again juice I then cut it with 20% vegetable stock and cooked the panisse just as I had before. The result this time? Crispy on the outside, creamy on the inside and just the right amount of squash flavor. Success! And a pain in my ass. But, this is really one of those dishes that gives you such a sense of pride.

So, now I'm sure everyone wants to run home and make a panisse for themselves so I'll tell you how. First and foremost, TAKE YOUR TIME. If you mess it up the first time thats okay. It will take a few tries to get it just right. Secondly, WORK QUICKLY. Yes, I completely contradicted myself but I mean it. Once you start cooking the panisse you have to work quickly. Make sure all your mise en place is ready otherwise the panisse will set up in the pan and you will be cursing my name.

For a traditional Panisse you will need:
1000 grams vegetable stock
400 grams chick pea flour
200 grams olive oil
salt to taste

Wisk this mixture together off the heat until there are no lumps. Now, you need to get your pan ready to pour the finished panisse into. Use a 1/4 sheet pan or an 8x8 pan. Spray the pan very well with cooking spray. Put a greased spatula (an offset works best but a flat metal icing spat is okay too) next to the pan and make sure it is close to where you will be cooking the panisse.

Then, over medium heat in a heavy bottomed stainless pan begin whisking. DO NOT use an aluminum pan or you turn your panisse grey. DO NOT stop whisking. At first, not much will be going on but if you quit whisking the mixture will begin to stick to the bottom of the pan and you will not be happy.

Once the mixture starts to boil it will come together quite quickly. Don't worry if it starts to appear to get lumpy again. If you continue whisking it will smooth out as it cooks. Yes, your arm will get tired. KEEP GOING. The mixture will get VERY THICK and VERY ELASTIC. This is exactly what you want. When the panisse is smooth, thick and elastic shut the heat off and immediately pour into your ready pan. Pour as quickly as you can. If the panisse is made properly it will begin setting up immediately as it cools. Use your greased spatula to force the panisse into the corners of the pan and smooth the top. If the panisse is resisting going into the corners of the pan or springing back a bit thats a good thing - you did it right. Smooth it as best as you can and lay a piece of plastic wrap against the top of the panisse so it doesn't get a crusty skin as it cools. Put the panisse straight into the cooler and let it chill.

To serve: unmold the panisse. It should hold its shape perfectly. If it is creamy or falls apart you didn't cook it long enough. Try again. Cut the panisse into your desired shape for slicing. I recommend using a hot knife to slice it. Dust the panisse with a bit of cornstarch or flour and fry them. You can pan fry the panisse but deep frying really is best.


If your panisse comes out well I encourage you to experiement with adding other flavors. When we made Fennel Panisse at the restaurant we simply made a strong fennel broth and dusted the bottom of our greased pan with fennel seed.

The squash panisse is a huge pain but tastes great. You may be able to achieve similar results by adding pieces of squash to your vegetable stock and simmering to get the squash flavor. Without juicing you won't get the rich orange color.

When thinking of chickpea my mind immediately goes to Hummos. One of my favorite items to eat with hummos is red pepper. I think a red pepper panisse would be awesome. Someone should make it for me :-)

Happy cooking. I wish you all panisse success and a sense of great pride when you take your first bite!

Chicago is....

Number One in green buildings according to the US Green Building Council. The Council reports that we boast 88 buildings with the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Certifications. This is one step in Mayor Daley's quest to make Chicago the greenest city in the United States. Currently, Chicago ranks ninth, while Portland Oregon holds the top spot.

Daley has been a vocal advocate of green architecture. Years ago, Chicago's City Hall was outfitted with a lushly-planted green roof. See look it really is green. The city requires new public buildings to achieve LEED certification. In addition, public and private projects receiving city assistance must either have a green roof or pursue green building certification.

Hooray Chicago.

Is it sad I question the Mayor's motives with this? Does he really just care about the environment or maybe the whole green movement has mob ties. Just kidding Mr. Daley if you're reading this!


I was recently introduced to an amazing organization called WWOOF. World Wide Opportunities On Organic Farms was started in 1971 as a way to connect people from all over the world to share more sustainable ways of living. In return for volunteer work on the hosts' farm volunteers receive a place to stay, meals, and numerous opportunities to learn about the organic lifestyle.

Volunteers do not pay for their stay and hosts do not pay their volunteers for work.

WWOOF hosts can be found in almost every country around the world. So, no matter what your interest I'm sure there is a farm, community, gardener or SOMEONE who fits your desire.

You can find more information by visiting

The program I am most interested in is in the West African country of Sierra Leone. WWOOF has a school garden program in SL that is teaching children how to grow their own food. The food is then served to the children and staff of the school and any surplus can be sold to keep the school running, or sent home to feed the often impoverished students' families.

Anyone who knows me knows my soft spot for children. And, anything we can do to teach sustainable farming/living in Africa will be one less way Monsanto can invade the lives of people in developing countries.

Monsanto is already hard at work developing GM rice and wheat specifically to market to developing countries. I would love to see Sierra Leone and other African nations reject what Monsanto has to "offer"

According to one article Monsanto is trying to be the "johnny appleseed" of Africa. They are marketing a "high yield" hybrid maize containing fertilizer and herbicide. The maize is being called Xoshindlala a Zula word meaning to chase away hunger. Not shockingly, this is not an aid project either, Monsanto is marketing and selling this crap (yea I said it) for profit to African farmers. So, here they go - trying to convince yet another group of farmers that monoculture is the wave of the future.

Another reason to go WWOOF in Africa? Monsanto also has it's hand in the "relief" food America sends to African nations. Monsanto PROFITS from hunger in Africa due to their government contracts to provide relief food. Monsanto would hate to see Africans learning to farm on their own and SUSTAIN rather than maintain life as they are doing currently.

The UN recently released a report saying that Africa's best hope for the future is organic agriculture. Yet the Senate Foreign Relations Committee has passed S.384, the Global Food Security Act, that would require "research on biotechnological advances appropriate to local ecological conditions, including genetically modified technology" as a condition of US aid.

Instead of cynically cloaking corporate welfare for chemical companies like Monsanto in agriculture aid packages, why not support the United Nations Environment Program's Green Economy Initiative?

A new survey by the UN Conference on Trade and the Environment and UNEP in East Africa found that over 90 per cent of studies show that organic or near organic agriculture had benefits for soil fertility; water control; improved water tables, carbon sequestration and biodiversity.

This allows farmers to extend the growing season in marginal areas. The research in East Africa was among 1.6 million organic or near organic farmers from seven countries working on 1.4 million hectares.

Other findings include an increase in crop yields of 128 per cent since switching

In other disturbing news - Monsanto is attempting to forge a partnership with the CARE organization - a high profile US based food-aid agency. It seems the goal of the meeting is to use the food aid agency to test and distribute their genetically-altered seeds among poor farmers. What a load of bullshit. If CARE goes along with this they are making a terrible mistake.

So please, join WWOOF and help promote SUSTAINABLE living.

For information on statistics I have posted please visit the following websites for full articles.

Worthwhile Cause

As a young(ish) person who feels very passionate about food politics and the future of food in our country I feel it is important for me to take a step back from blogging solely about MY cause and focus on two other amazing projects that have recently come to my attention. Both are created by young people who are dedicated to their particular cause and I am going to take a moment to highlight each one of them in hopes that you will support their missions.

First, I want to introduce you to the Building A Future organization. This organziation helps to provide educational and social development for impoverished children in Honduras. Currently they are requesting donations for community centers that help provide daily meals, education and a place to sleep for approximately 1,000 Honduran children. I was introduced to the organziation by close friend and former co-worker Lauren Parton. Lauren met artist Maria Amalia Wood -a native of Honduras- while attending college at Judson University. Now, Maria is using her amazing artwork to raise funds for the Building a Future Organization.

Maria has launched the Butterfly Art Blox Fundraiser. These pieces of art are each magnetic 4x4 wooden blocks with gorgeous butterfly designs done in watercolor. Marias statement for the inspiration behind the butterfly design... "In an ideal world, every child would have bright colorful wings, but that is not the reality in which we live in. There are millions of children whose childhood and hope have been stolen…their wings are black and white. We might not be able to give them their childhood back, but we can give them hope of a better future. Your purchase of an art piece will add color to a child’s wings."

You can find out more information, or order one (OR MORE) Art Blox at the following website.

Also, watch this video to learn more about Maria and her art.

The second organiztion helps kids right here in Chicago. It is the Swish Dreams Foundation founded by an acquataince of mine Mr. Josh Mercer. Josh is a native Chicagoan and graduate of Howard University who gave up a promising career in banking and finance he felt compelled to integrate himself into the Englewood community to volunteer and change the lives of youth living in a neighborhood stricken with violence and poverty. After beginning to volunteer Josh noticed that many his students were highly deficient in the areas of math and reading but loved competing in sports. It was here that his idea for Swish Dreams was born.

The mission of Swish Dreams is to provide academic, social, and physical enrichment to Chicago's youth by integrating the disciplines of reading and math with the game of basketball.

Today, Swish Dreams has forged relationships with both the Chicago Bulls and the Chicago Sky and have served over 50 kids on Chicago's Southside.

On October 13th Josh and Swish Dreams embarks on a whole new journey. The 1st Annual Swish Dreams Fundraiser will be held at Rumba Restaurant and Lounge - 251 W. Hubbard in Chicago from 6 to 10pm. After 3 years of hard work establishing the organization, in the summer of 2010 Josh will be launching Swish Dreams as a full scale camp at the House of Hope. The goal of the evening is to raise $12,000. Please visit to donate or buy a ticket to the event.

I cannot tell you enough how much Chicago needs a program like this. The Englewood neighborhood and other neighborhoods in Chicago's south and west sides have been riddled with violence in the last few years. As of May 2009 36 Chicago Public School children had been murdered. The number has risen substantially since May but I have not seen the latest statistic. I really believe it is young men like Josh who have the power to change the shape of the lives of these kids. Please consider a donation to Swish Dreams if you can't attend their event. For more information please visit or email

As a final note - both Swish Dreams and Building a Future are recognized 501c3 organizations which means all your donations are tax deductible.

Thomas Keller

Thomas Keller - the genius behind the restaurant The French Laundry once said "The life of a chef inevitably leads to areas of neglect in his life." I guess lately my area of neglect has unfortunately been my blog.

I have lots of interesting stuff to catch you up on and am looking forward to a productive few days of blogging ahead of me. I just learned (with the help of T-Mobile) how to use my blackberry as a modem to connect my laptop to the internet at home. Now, I don't have to venture across the street to the library or down the street to the coffee shop to get my writing done. Hooray!

Now I can blog in my PJ's!