When my mother started doing cooking classes in the early 2000s, we had no idea how it was going to turn out. I remember doing a trial run a week before the first class. A few close friends – some experienced cooks, some not – made lobster risotto and shrimp with lemon something. That first class sold out, as did the majority of the ones that followed. I was in high school at the time and the last child living at home and was completely swept up in the excitement and anxiety of this new venture.
I have been cooking as long as I can remember. I have vague memories of making a chocolate cake with my mother in my toddler years: the white enamel KitchenAid mixer, the spatula she let me lick clean. As a child, “make-your-own pizza” was a foregone conclusion at every slumber party. Later, I hosted dinner parties for my high school theater friends.
Back then, it never really occurred to me how different our lifestyle was, or how fortunate I was to receive this extraordinary education. It was only after my mother’s death that I began to fully appreciate this gift. Within hours, my siblings and I were flooded with beautiful notes from childhood and adolescent friends and acquaintances sharing fond memories sitting around our kitchen table, of Mom’s delicious contributions to classroom celebrations, or of her generous spirit and eagerness to share her knowledge and love of cooking.
Accordingly, as new and exciting as the cooking class venture was, its success was no surprise. My mother had for years been evangelizing everyone she encountered in the possibility of a more delicious life, so when she opened our home to the community to share her gift, the response was naturally overwhelming.
My mother was a great fan of Jordan and Aurora Coffey, and the whole crew at American Harvest, who shared her mirth and love of good cooking and great ingredients. Ultimately, they became family. When they approached us about putting on a grand dinner in memory of my mother, it felt like a fitting completion to her life’s work.
The menu on Thursday, April 28, will feature Jordan and Aurora’s interpretations of some of my mother’s most popular recipes. I find great joy in the fact that we will be able to experience her bounteous spirit for one more night, and we can once more be enveloped in a truly delicious life. The dishes on the four-course menu will be available a la carte, or as part of a tasting menu.
American Harvest Eatery is located at 3241 W. Iles Ave. in Springfield. Call 217-546-8300 for reservations or more information. A portion of the proceeds from that evening will be donated to the genHkids coalition.
The following is a seasonal recipe from one of my mother’s cookbooks.
ASPARAGUS SOUP with Green Garlic
• 2 lb. asparagus
• 2 c. water, plus additional if needed
• 1 bulb of green garlic, both white & green parts, thinly sliced
• 1 T. butter
• Kosher or sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
Break off the tough ends of the asparagus by holding the very bottom of each stalk with one hand and gently but firmly bending the top over with the other hand until the bottom breaks off. Discard the bottoms.
Cut the asparagus tips off and reserve. Thinly slice the remaining stalks. If the asparagus has a wide variety of thicknesses, cut the thinner ones into larger pieces so that it all cooks more or less evenly. Set aside.
In a large saucepan, melt half of the butter over medium high heat. Add the asparagus tips, sprinkle lightly with salt and stir-fry until the tips are just crisp-tender. This could take 3-8 minutes, depending on the size of the tips. You can hurry this process along by “steam-frying,” adding a little water to the pan and letting it evaporate. When the tips are cooked, remove them from the pan and put them on a plate or rack to cool quickly. Set aside.
Reduce the heat to medium, and add the remaining butter and the garlic. Cook, stirring frequently, until the garlic is softened but not browned, about 3-5 minutes.
Add the sliced asparagus stalks to the pan and cover with the water. You may need to add a little additional water. The asparagus should just be covered. Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer, and cook until the asparagus is completely tender, but still bright green. This should take no more than 5 minutes.
When the asparagus is tender, immediately put the pan in a large pan or sink of very cold water. You may want to add some ice cubes to the water. Stir frequently and change the water as it warms up. The point is to rapidly chill the mixture so that it retains its color.
When the mixture has cooled, purée it in a blender. It (and the reserved tips) can be refrigerated at this point for several days until ready to serve.
To serve, return the mixture to the saucepan and heat through. Season to taste with salt and pepper and thin with additional water if desired. Garnish with the reserved asparagus tips that have been warmed or at least come to room temperature.
Makes about 5 c., serving 4-6.
This is a basic recipe that can be altered in any number of variations. It can be chilled, replacing the water with milk if desired. Chicken stock can also be used. Minced regular garlic, onion, leek or scallion can replace the green garlic. Made thicker, it can act as a sauce for scallops, salmon, chicken, etc. Other vegetables can be substituted for the asparagus, such as carrots, broccoli or zucchini.
Ashley Meyer is the daughter of Julianne Glatz, who wrote for IT from 2006 until her death earlier this year. Meyer is the executive chef for genHkids, a coalition dedicated to improving the health of children through empowerment, nutrition education, and increased physical activity. Through her work with genHkids, Meyer seeks to pass on her mother’s knowledge and passion for food and gardening to the next generation.