Lottie + Doof + Amanda Rockman

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Recently there has been some discussion about pastry chefs and their importance in restaurant kitchens. You know by now that I consider dessert to be the most important part of any meal, and I stand in solidarity with pastry chefs and their kin. I want to spend some time this year highlighting my favorite pastry makers and bakers in Chicago, because they are amazing and have a lot to teach home bakers.

I’m always shocked when people don’t order dessert—are they ill? is this a sign of mental illness? do they not understand what dessert is? I order dessert. Sometimes I ask to see the dessert menu first so that I can plan my meal based on that final course. Occasionally Bryan and I even order second desserts. We once, famously, order four plated desserts at a fancy restaurant in town. They undoubtedly assumed we were restaurant critics, but we  just wanted to try all of the options. Pastry chefs are among the only chefs whose names I remember, I even follow some on social media, and I’ll tell you what—they tend to be kind, generous, and usually have a good sense of humor (if you will permit me to generalize).

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One of the chefs that I have followed for quite a while is Chicago’s Amanda Rockman. She’s become a bit of an iconic Chicago restaurant character. Within our household, Bryan has taken to calling her A-Rock (which may, or may not annoy her). I’ve followed her from The Bristol, to Balena, and now to Nico Osteria, where she currently works. These are three of Chicago’s best restaurants—she ain’t no fool (and neither are they). Over the past few years I have grown to believe she is baking just for me. She gets me. It’s similar to how I feel about my favorite musicians. If Amanda Rockman is making dessert, you better believe I will be there. Her sweets manage to be totally comforting and satisfying without ever being pedestrian. This is in part because of her attention to detail and impeccable craftsmanship. But she also knows how far to push things before they start to get weird, and I think that is an important skill in a pastry chef. I want to be challenged by dessert, but not so challenged that I can’t relax and enjoy it. Her version of tiramisu at Balena (and indeed at Nico) was a perfect example of her genius. Elements were familiar to anyone who had eaten tiramisu in the past (which is 100% of the population?), but she threw in a streusel and a perfect little pear roasted in coffee. It was insanely delicious. At Nico she has made so many beautiful dishes, from an affogato made with Chinotto and fior di latte gelato to a walnut flan tart. read more+++

David’s Paris Kitchen

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If you read any food blogs, you probably read David Lebovitz’s. You should—it is wonderful. I can always count on David to teach me something new and to make me smile. His site inspires kitchen projects and frequent daydreams of trips to Paris. The blog is such a great resource, but of course David’s work doesn’t stop there. He is also a successful chef and cookbook author (and all-around great guy!). So, it is an exciting day for all of us when he releases a new cookbook.

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My Paris Kitchen is David’s homage to his life in France and the food he cooks at home. The first thing you’ll notice about the book is how beautiful it is—both the photography (by the talented Ed Anderson) and the design are sharp and evocative. (Ten Speed Press seems to be leading the pack as cookbooks published here in the states get better and better looking.) But it’s David’s voice— funny, smart, and informative—that draws you in. He’s created a book that manages to be beautiful, engaging, and full of recipes you will be anxious to try. read more+++

Multigrain Muffins

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One of my best friends came into town for Thanksgiving and we were going to pick her up at the airport. I knew she’d be hungry so I baked these muffins. Sure enough, her first text when her flight landed was: Hungarian. Which is, of course, how we tell each other we’re hungry. After finding her in the holiday airport traffic behind an Alamo bus she settled into the back seat of our car and ate the muffin. She loved it, and I loved having her back in town. It was a great start to the holiday week. read more+++

Cranberry Torte

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A few weeks ago I mentioned that I was going to be DJing at the Hideout at an event to support the campaign for marriage equality in Illinois. It was a fun night (see playlist below!) full of cool people, and we raised an impressive amount of money. I’d been nervous about the DJ gig, so I brought my friend Gabe with me.

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One of the best things that happened to me in 2013 was the birth of my best friends’ baby, Gabe. Babies are some of the coolest people in the world, and it has been a real pleasure getting to know this little man who is about to turn seven months old. I consider him one of my best friends, though he has had very little say in the matter and doesn’t even know what a friends is…or a best is.

I thought he might be into DJing because he definitely likes music, and I was right. He proved to be a great sidekick, though to be honest he fell asleep pretty early.

On Tuesday Illinois became the 15th state to approve extending marriage benefits to same-sex couples. My marriage (performed in the great state of Massachusetts!), will finally be recognized in my home state. I am glad to have supported the cause, and I very much like the fact that Gabe’s first political act lead to success. I am also happy to know that I live in a state that has prioritized this issue and made progress in supporting equal rights.

This kind of thing means a lot more when you are friends with a baby. read more+++

Buttermilk Cake with Sour Milk Jam and Gin-Poached Cherries

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Last month’s issue of Bon Appetit was devoted to the country’s best restaurants. It included a recipe for a buttermilk cake that sounded delicious. But when I got to the end of the recipe they instruct you to tear the cake up into little pieces and carefully place them on a plate along with little dollops of cherries and milk jam. Sure enough, I turned back to the photograph (see!) and it was a sparse plate of carefully arranged bits that is common enough in restaurants, but that would be very absurd in my kitchen. I imagine that I would feel like a first-class tool if I presented someone with a  plate of torn up bits of cake. Also, I would be laughed out of the room. read more+++

A cake for midsummer

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I made this cake last summer, but somehow never got around to writing about it even though it was perfection. Who knows what happened—something distracted me or the moment passed. It is a Nigel Slater recipe (if the title didn’t give it away), and it needs to be made every summer from now until the end of time. I am resurrecting it here with the hope that you all have some raspberries and apricots at your market and can throw this together over the weekend. I sure will.

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Sometimes it is nice to talk about something other than food. Which I do a lot of in my real life, but not as much of in my internet life. I was honored and pleased when Rebecca Hernandez from The Women Take Over asked me to answer some questions about feminism and equality, two things I care deeply about. Rebecca is one of the folks behind that fantastic You Don’t Own Me PSA during the last election. The Women Take Over is a great website that profiles feminists and feminist issues, with the goal of inspiring young people. I love it. I hope you will take the time to check out Rebecca’s site and follow along. Yes to feminism! Check out my interview HERE! read more+++

Orange Loaf

You hate to say things like this too soon, but it has been a remarkably easy winter in Chicago. I have done a minimal amount of complaining about the weather, which has been pretty mild. In fact, I have been thoroughly enjoying this winter and the food that goes along with it, I’m not even tired of citrus fruits yet. For the first time in a while, I am okay with winter sticking around a bit longer. I still have a bunch of cold-weather recipes I want to tackle, and I have been enjoying the excuse to embrace my homebodiness.

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My Favorite Plum

Now we arrive at the time of year where I am writing about recipes just as their ingredients are going out of season. I can’t keep up with the farmers and I always fall behind. But, with any luck, we’ll have another harvest next year and you will have this recipe. For the record, I have tried in the past to just save the recipe and photos and post them eleven months from now, but it never works. I forget what happened and don’t feel as connected to the recipe. So, on with it—plums!

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C-H-O-C-O-L-A-T-E

Are you as surprised as I am that this post is about chocolate?

My dislike of chocolate has probably been overstated. It is more like apathy. I just don’t care much about it, and chocolate will almost always be my last choice for dessert. It just isn’t my jam. But then, occasionally, chocolate crosses my path that makes me really happy—chocolate soft serve ice cream, for instance, or pain au chocolat. Bryan says I just like chocolate that isn’t very chocolatey, which is probably true. I think I like chocolate as an accent, rather than a focus. Except in the case of chocolate chip cookies, which I always hate. Um…. Enough about me, let’s talk about chocolate-juniper cake. read more+++

Ginger Muffins

Marion Cunningham died last week. Not the mom from Happy Days, but the food writer. Some of you think that is obvious but, trust me, most people think of the mom.

Marion Cunningham may have been my favorite food writer. Not that a title needs to be awarded in that category, I love so many.  But I usually say, when asked, that The Breakfast Book is my favorite cookbook. It is true, though it could not be more different from the other contenders. It is simple and understated, focused on one meal, no fancy photos, just a few simple drawings. Still, it is the one I return to most often and relate to the easiest. Cunningham’s voice was strong and encouraging and I like cozying up to her books. read more+++