Victories, Large and Small

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I hope that Julia Turshen is the future of home cooking. There are a few voices in the crowd of people talking about food that are worth listening to–Julia’s is one of those voices. I would describe her, in lazy shorthand—the kind used to pitch a new television series, as Ina Garten with a sense of humor (she is the queen of #dadjokes) and a political conscience. This basically describes my ideal food writer. Full-disclosure, I also consider Julia a friend, but I think that only influences my judgment in positive ways. I can testify that she is authentic. Additional evidence for her greatness is the mountain of praise she has received in the weeks leading up to the release of her new cookbook. read more+++

Prune, Oat, and Spelt Scones

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A quick note to say: make these scones! They’re superduper amazing. You should make the whole batch and freeze a bunch to improve future mornings. They are definitely best served hot from the oven.

The recipe is from The Violet Bakery Cookbook, a book that I am slowly growing to love. I didn’t trust it for a long time (see issues below), I don’t believe some of the recipes and there are some conversion problems between weight and volume. But the book is very beautiful and the kind of dumb dreamy read that I often enjoy. I was surprised (and happy!) by how far it made its way through the recent Piglet cookbook competition this year, which is partially what prompted me to use the book more. You can read those reviews to get more perspective on the book.

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Torta della Nonna

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A friend recently posted this article on Facebook that addressed the difficulties of Christmas gift giving between adults, which is something Bryan and I have been discussing a lot. As people who are celebrating the secular side of Christmas, we’re struggling to figure out what that means now that we’re all grown up. As kids with little or no financial power of our own, gifts were the greatest thing ever (we also weren’t as smart as kids, so surprises were easier). I think we hold on to the hope that gifts will still feel the same, but they usually don’t. And while I still give and enjoy receiving some gifts, I am trying to find other ways to show my friends and family I care. Baking is one of those ways.

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Occasionally, I like to throw a real project of a recipe at you, especially at this time of year when you don’t have anything else going on. I have wanted to try this Torta della Nonna recipe since I first got The Mozza Cookbook (which remains a favorite cookbook of mine), but I have been a little reluctant because the recipe spans 3 or 4 pages of the book and sometimes even I just can’t. But I did finally try it, and am here to encourage you to do the same. It might be just the place to channel some of your gift-giving energy, and what better gift than sitting around a table eating a pastry with friends? read more+++

How We Used to Flex in Texas

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Amanda Rockman has left the building.

After a good run in Chicago, she has packed her bags and headed back home to Texas. You may remember Amanda from the famous Gateau Basque recipe she shared on these pages. If you’ve ever had the pleasure of eating a plate of sweets made by this super-talented chef, you probably won’t forget her. If pastry chefs were spirit animals, she’d probably be mine. So, as you might have guessed, I was a little bummed when I heard she was leaving town. So bummed that in her last couple of weeks I’d just show up at Nico and eat all of the desserts for dinner. Amanda’s been an important part of Chicago’s pastry scene for years—but Chicago’s loss is Austin’s gain (Austinites—Amanda will be in charge of all pastry at the soon to open South Congress Hotel, go tell her I said hello), and I am happy for Amanda and excited to see what she does next.

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Lovage

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Farmers Markets are slowly reopening in Chicago. I like this time of year, the produce tastes good, and it’s fun to be outdoors. But I often buy stuff just for the novelty of buying stuff, which is stupid. Sometimes, though, it pays off—like with the bunch of lovage that I impulse-bought at Green City Market on Saturday. I don’t see lovage very often, and I got excited. For those of you unfamiliar, lovage is herbaceous plant that tastes somewhat like celery—though more intense, and perhaps also a bit like lime. It’s delicious.  read more+++

Lottie + Doof + Dana Cree!!

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I met Dana Cree this past autumn when I moderated a Taste Talks panel on one of my favorite topics, ice cream. Dana is one of Chicago’s most celebrated and beloved pastry chefs and is responsible for the sweets at both Blackbird and Avec, two of Chicago’s most celebrated and beloved restaurants. She has twice been nominated for a James Beard award for her work at Blackbird. Dana really loves making (and eating) ice cream. She’s been selling small batches of her carefully produced pints at Chicago’s Publican Quality Meats, where each one warmly introduces itself with a “Hello my name is…” tag. Someday she’ll undoubtedly have her own ice cream shop (I can’t wait!), but for now we hoard pints. Her ice cream landed her on that panel with me where I learned that Dana is funny (she talked about poop!), smart (further evidence available on her beautiful blog) and generous (here she is!). read more+++

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+++

Cranberry + Sage Pie

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I am here to suggest you make someone you love a pie. Maybe it’s a friend, maybe it’s a member of your family, maybe it’s Jamie Dornan—I don’t really care who it is (unless you actually know Jamie Dornan, in which case please send my regards along with the pie). It’s February. Love is in the air and what better way to show it than with a homemade pie? read more+++

Profiteroles with Tahini Brown Butter Cream, Sesame Cashews, Caramel and Halva

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There are a few restaurants in this world that have become iconic for me. Places that manage to provide everything I dream a restaurant could provide. Some of them are in Chicago, and I am grateful for that. Some are further away and I pine for them. A restaurant at the top of my list is Ana Sortun’s Oleana, in Cambridge, Massachusetts. The restaurant has been there for a while and received heaps of praise since its opening, but we only ate there for the first time a few years ago. We were in Massachusetts to be married, and so of course that colors all of our experiences with a warm glow. But the meal blew my mind. Plate after plate of food elicited wows and mmmms and sometimes silent awe from us. It doesn’t hurt that we were sitting in the beautiful garden behind the restaurant and that the service is among the the best I have experienced anywhere. The staff is friendly and charming and eager to teach you about the food. Bryan and I both agreed it was the perfect restaurant.

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