Another Banana Bread

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The last few weeks have been kind of juicy in the ole’ U.S. of A.. I’ve felt everything from shame and anger to pride and joy as an American. That is my usual range of emotions related to my citizenship, I guess it has just felt very concentrated. That coupled with summer, and a series of fun visitors, has kept me pretty distracted. When we’ve been home, we’ve eaten a lot of old favorites. I’ve made this eggplant spread a couple of times and still love it. I baked these cakes for the 4th of July and they were as good as ever.

I also tried another banana bread recipe. This one from the pages of Bon Appetit. I don’t actually read Bon Appetit anymore, I just use it for recipes—some sort of reverse Playboy thing is happening?  I do find myself wondering why magazines are making such a mess of themselves. The way to compete with the internet is not to make your magazine seem more like the internet—yet we’re being given lists and infographics and stupid celebrity stuff. But like I said, there are still some good recipes. This banana bread is from El Rey Coffee Bar & Luncheonette in New York City and is a really special riff on everyone’s favorite quick bread that adds some sesame seeds and sesame paste to the mix.

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Salted Caramel Pound Cake

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Occasionally I come across Martha Stewart’s baking show on PBS. It is strange for many reasons, not the least of which are the lighting (there seem to be multiple suns in her world because the “natural” light coming in through windows is coming from all sorts of directions), and her pronunciation of the word pretty (priht-tea, with a strong emphasis on each syllable). The whole thing is mesmerizing. I would probably join a cult if Martha Stewart started one. Maybe I already have. read more+++

Spiced Carrot, Pistachio + Almond Cake

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It’s 2015, you guys! I hope everyone’s year is off to a great start.

You know how sometimes when you stop doing something it becomes harder to start up again? You lose momentum. Like with new years resolutions, you start off exercising everyday, or flossing, and then you stop and you can’t imagine starting again. Sometimes it is like that with blogging. I took a little break for the holidays and I am now having to throw myself back into this. Not because I haven’t been cooking and wanting to tell you about (I have! I do!), but because it has been a while and so I now need to squeeze it back into my life. Squeeze it into the time slot that has been filled with things like bad tv and good books.

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The Torte

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Make this cake.

In case Deb, Amelia (whose enthusiasm inspired me), or the scores of others who have written about this cake did not convince you, I am here to repeat that this is one of the best recipes ever. If you don’t consider yourself a baker, this will change all of that. It could not be easier, and the results could not be more impressive. It looks like something you’d find in a rustic French bakery and tastes even better. Seriously, people, make this cake. read more+++

Blueberry Muffins

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Certain recipes never make their way to these pages. Blueberry muffins are a good example. I love blueberry muffins, so I try new recipes whenever I come across one that sounds good. But they’re all pretty good, because what could really be bad about blueberries and butter and sugar? Some are better than others, but it still isn’t the sort of thing that inspires me to write which means it has been six years with no blueberry muffin recipes. (Banana bread probably falls into this category, though recently I tried a recipe that may be perfect— I’ll let you know!) read more+++

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+++