Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Kate Neumann's Peach & Ginger Hand Pies with Vanilla Ice Cream

I recently invited a professional into my kitchen to teach me a few things and WOW, did it pay off big. Kate Neumann came by last week to teach me how to make these glorious hand pies and deliciously eggy vanilla ice cream.

Kate's the former pastry chef at mk the restaurant here in Chicago. I was their publicist for a spell and it was my job to get her gorgeous face and beautiful recipes on TV, and in newspapers and magazines across the country. One of the highlights of my career was our rendezvous in New York City, where we made the rounds to introduce Kate to editors from Food & Wine, Bon Appetit, Lucky, Domino and Town & Country. One of the many ways it paid off was having her recipes featured in a lush eight page spread in the November 2007 issue of Food & Wine!

I'd always felt a kinship with Kate's baking style. Although she's fully fluent in the panoply of pastry, she tends to stick with the classics; always using beautiful, seasonal ingredients and often adding some modern, interesting twist. Check out this list of some of her mouth-watering creations:

one banana, two banana
warm banana brioche bread pudding, banana sherbet, roasted bananas, whipped cream, butterscotch

what’s up, peanut buttercup?
peanut butter mousse, crispy milk chocolate, peanut caramel tart, peanut brittle

nichols' farm rhubarb crisp, strawberry cream cheese ice cream, oatmeal raisin cookie, maple caramel

peppermint patty
bittersweet chocolate cake, peppermint stick ice cream, crushed peppermints, hot fudge

sticky toffee
warm medjool date cake, roasted lady apple, honey toffee sauce, crème fraiche chantilly

Kate made a batch of these hand pies for my birthday a few years back and I've never forgotten them. Since then, I figured if I wanted to experience them again, I'd have to ask her to make them again. Can you believe it never occurred to me that I could make them myself? They were professional hand pies, after all. It finally dawned on me all I had to do was ask her to come over and show me how to make them. See, I learn by doing. And so can you. If you have any questions, email me and I'll walk you through it.

Kate Neumann's Peach & Ginger Hand Pies
makes about 16

Pastry Dough:

3 2/3 cups all purpose flour
2 tbsp. sugar
1 tsp. salt
10.5 ounces (about 2.5 sticks) unsalted butter, very cold and cubed
1 egg, cold & gently beaten
1/4 cup ice water


3 to 4 peaches chopped into small pieces (I actually threw in a few blueberries to some of mine as well, as you can see from the photo)
1 tsp. grated ginger
1/4 cup light brown sugar
1 1/2 tsp. all purpose flour
2 tbsp. creme fraiche, sour cream or Greek yogurt

For assembly:
1 egg
demerara or cane sugar

Mix flour, sugar, salt and butter in a bowl. You can use a standing mixer with paddle attachment, a Cuisinart with a dough blade or if you're like me, use your hands.

Combine until butter has broken down into pea-sized pieces.

Add the egg and blend with a wooden spoon. Then, pour ice water in tablespoon increments until dough looks "shaggy" and feels slightly wet.

Knead the dough together by hand and form into a round disc, cover with plastic wrap and let chill in fridge for 30 minutes.

On a well-floured counter or pastry board, roll dough out to 3/16 inch thickness and cut out four inch rounds. We used the outline of the rim of a bowl and traced it out with a knife. Place each cut out round on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper and a light dusting of flour. The scraps can be combined and rolled out again. Cover the rounds and chill while you make the filling.

In a bowl, combine peaches, ginger, brown sugar, flour, creme fraiche. Using a spatula, gently fold ingredients together to roughly combine.

Take out dough rounds and place a heaping tablespoon of filling in the center of each disc.

Whisk the egg. Brush a half circle of egg around the edge of exposed pastry to act as "glue." Fold the circle in half and press down the edges with a fork to seal. Chill for at least one hour.

Before baking, brush surface of the crust with egg, cut three slits as vents and sprinkle with sugar.

Bake in pre-heated oven at 375 for about 45 minutes until golden brown.

Enjoy warm or at room temp with or without ice cream. Once fully cooled, store at room temperature in sealed glass or plastic container between layers of parchment paper.

Vanilla Ice Cream

For this you'll need an ice cream maker and a full day ahead prep time.

For the ice cream:

12 egg yolks
1 cup sugar
pinch kosher salt
1/2 vanilla bean, sliced lengthwise and scraped of seeds
2 cups organic whole milk
2 cups organic heavy whipping cream

Make the custard:

Put together an ice bath (water and lots of ice cubes) in a large bowl that the bowl of warm custard can comfortably nestle in to chill. (see photo above)

Whisk together egg yolks, sugar and salt and vanilla (throw seeds and pod in there) in said bowl.

In a heavy saucepan, bring milk and cream to a strong simmer. Turn off the heat.

Put a small amount of the egg mixture into the saucepan (this is called tempering) and whisk like mad to prevent curdling. Then add the rest of the egg mixture in the saucepan.

Turn heat back on to a medium flame and stir constantly until the mixture thickens to coat the back of a rubber spatula or spoon. This could take 5 to 10 minutes.

Immediately pour mixture back into the bowl and nestle in the ice bath and allow to cool. Remove vanilla bean pod and discard.

Cover custard in the bowl with two layers of plastic wrap. One literally touching the top of the custard and one to cover the top of the bowl. You want to expose it to as little air as possible while it chills. Chill in fridge preferably overnight.

Freeze in ice cream maker according to manufacturer's instructions.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Campari: Gateway Drug To The Good Life

I had my first Campari on a date at a racetrack in Florence, Italy. We stood along the rails watching the races with a group of distinguished (i.e. drunk) older gentlemen. We bonded tutti insieme over drinks and screamed at our dollar bets to cross the finish line. It was a very romantic first date for a young woman in a new country and my love of Campari is certainly cemented in part, by that nostalgia.

Campari's definitely an acquired taste. On its own it can be a little rough around the edges; at once bitter, viscous and medicinal. But mixed with fresh squeezed orange or grapefruit juice over ice, it transforms into a perfectly civilized and refreshing summer cocktail.

I made these for a recent summer dinner party and they were an instant hit. My friends who'd never had them before, loved them. Campari's also very high in alcohol; it's strength might sneak up on you. Depending on where it's sold it can be as high as 28%! I believe it's 18% here in the States. If you're looking for a new summer tipple, Campari might be just the thing.

Here's a few quick and easy recipes for Campari:

Campari & OJ: Place ice cubes in a highball or old-fashioned glass. Add 1/3 Campari to 2/3 fresh squeezed OJ.

Campari & Grapefruit: Same as above but with 1/4 Campari to 3/4 freshly squeezed pink grapefruit juice.

Campari & Soda: Place ice cubes in a highball glass. Add 2/3 Campari and 1/3 club soda.

Negroni: pour equal parts gin, sweet red vermouth and Campari into a cocktail shaker with ice, shake and strain into a martini glass. Garnish with orange peel.

Reverse Negroni: Another great summer cocktail, this obscure drink was introduced to me at one of my all time favorite, (now defunct) Chicago restaurants, Sole Mio. RIP.

Pour equal parts vodka, dry vermouth and Campari in a cocktail shaker with ice. Shake and strain into a martini glass. Garnish with lemon rind.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Homemade Tzatziki

The journal from my trip to the Greek Islands many years ago reads a little like Cheech and Chong's, How I Spent My Summer Vacation. Day after day, it went a little something like this:

"Woke up. Went to the cafe for breakfast. Ate Greek yogurt, fruit and honey. Drank coffee, very black. Went to the beach. Swam in the sea. Went to the cafe for lunch. Ate Greek salad, tzatziki and grilled fish. Played Ouzo-soaked backgammon on the pier until near blind. Went to the cafe for dinner. Ate Greek salad, tzatziki and grilled lamb. Drank a bottle of Retsina. Shook it hard at the disco. Passed out at 3 am."

I never wanted for lack of anything in Greece. The daily repetition of meals suited me just fine. The food was as local, fresh and simple as one could ask for.

It's remarkable how those meals influenced the way I cook today. In fact, one of the classic comfort staples in my home is tzatziki. You know, it's not just for Gyros anymore. I'll put it aside almost any protein - fish, chicken, lamb or beef. I'll do a composed salad of sliced and chopped vegetables such as cucumbers, radishes, celery, beets, green beans, favas, fennel and radicchio - dress it in red wine vinegar, olive oil, salt and pepper, add little mounds of feta and olives on the side and finish it with an over-sized dollop of tzatziki. I've also been known to dunk pretzels or really good kettle chips in it, crack a bottle of beer and call it a meal. Sometimes it just hits the spot.

This recipe was given to me by my friend and chef, Mark Graham in Seattle, Washington. It has since been adapted for my very garlicky, lemony and full fat preferences. Feel free to cut back on any of those to suit your tastes.


One large tub whole milk yogurt
- I use Greek yogurt like the Fage brand which is extra thick and requires no straining. If you use a traditional 32oz. yogurt, such as Stonyfield Farm you need to strain it for at least a few hours through cheesecloth or through a fine mesh sieve with a bowl underneath in the fridge.

3 to 4 pickling cucumbers
halved, seeded and thinly sliced. You can use a mandoline, a vegetable peeler, a Cuisinart with the slicing blade or hell, just use a knife if you can get super thin half moons, that's fine. You can use the larger, more watery cukes but you have to squeeze the water out of them after you've sliced them: wrap them in a cotton dishtowel and squeeze like mad over the sink. If you omit this step they will give off a lot of water and make your tzatziki thin and tasteless.

salt and pepper to taste
juice and zest of one medium sized lemon
3 to 4 cloves garlic, pressed
heaping piles of finely chopped fresh basil and mint to taste

Mix all ingredients in a non-reactive bowl and let sit in fridge to chill until flavors meld.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

The Promise of Pizza

For way too long I denied my love of good pizza. It all had to do with some screwed up notions about which foods I considered to be healthy or unhealthy. Thank goodness I'm finally unshackled because I really love pizza. I truly believe when we deny the things we love the most that's when we create an unhealthy situation. It sets up a guaranteed, never-ending, self-punishing trigger. My advice? Be honest with yourself about your most fervent pleasures; own and revel in them. Give yourself permission to enjoy them from time to time and earn your own trust around them. That way, they cease to be your adversaries. Even better if you can replace the processed versions with real ones along the way.

I love a good, blistery, slightly chewy, thin crust pizza and lately, I've had this burning desire to learn how to make it from scratch. It's seriously daunting for me - I've never worked with yeast. Not to mention, there are so many pizza dough recipes out there making all kinds of promises, it's hard to know where to begin. So, for my first foray, I went with someone who has never let me down...Martha. The one, the only.

At the library, I picked up The Martha Stewart Living Cookbook: The New Classics and in it, there was a recipe for pizza dough. I followed it to the letter. After the second rise, I punched down the dough, turned it out onto my pastry board and cut in into six, equal-sized discs. I wrapped each one individually in plastic wrap and placed them in my fridge. I left for a few hours, came home and checked on the dough only to find that the Michelin Man had taken up residence in there! The dough had expanded yet again, so I peeled away the plastic, punched it back down, rolled it out, cut and wrapped it once more.

The thing I've neglected to share is that it was also my good friend's birthday that evening and she had come to rely on eating very well in my home, so there was a lot riding on this. I could feel the pressure mounting.

I had planned to grill the pizzas. Our first pizza, a classic Margherita - fresh tomatoes, basil and mozzarella - died a slow death on the grill because of my own incompetence - I forgot to properly oil the dough and added the toppings before their time. However, there were pieces of the dough that tasted like the charred, chewy and smoky hardwood flavor I was going for which, gave me hope. I decided not to take a chance and blow the next pizza so I popped it in the oven. This one was an homage to a pizza I'd had at my favorite Chicago restaurant, Avec. Thinly shaved beets, arugula, marjoram, Manchego cheese and Nicoise olives. The toppings were stellar but the crust, honestly, had little flavor. But with enough wine, laughter and open air we managed to still enjoy it.

I declare that I am making a commitment right here and now to master pizza-making. There will be ongoing posts until I get it right. Until it meets my very high standards. Until I become fluent in the language and the feel of it. Until I can imagine that Martha's coming for lunch, and know without a doubt, she's going to be absolutely blown away.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Patricia Wells' Apricot Honey Tart

Those who know me would agree that I am a fan of the bold gesture. I would put this tart in that category. Like a good piece of statement jewelry. Like renting a villa in Italy and sending your closest friends first class tickets to join you. (Hasn't happened yet, but believe me, it's going to.)

First and foremost, this tart is a stunner. When you trot it out at the end of a meal or at brunch, people will inevitably ask if you really made it. It happened to me again last night. Not only does this tart look, smell and taste like summer, it's also good for the ol' self esteem. Quadroople bonus.

And believe it or not, it's truly easy - even if you've never made a crust before! You can substitute apricots with figs or plums - or any stone fruit. The only extra you'll need is a 12" round fluted tart pan.

This recipe is from the book, Patricia Wells at Home in Provence.


The Crust
unsalted butter to grease tart pan
8 tbsp. unsalted butter, melted and cooled
1/2 cup sugar
1/8 tsp. pure almond extract
1/8 tsp. pure vanilla extract
a pinch fine sea salt
1 1/4 cups plus 1 tbsp. unbleached all purpose flour
2 tbsp. finely ground raw almonds (I use my coffee grinder)

The Cream
1/2 cup heavy cream (buy organic!)
1 large egg
1/2 tsp. pure almond extract
1/2 tsp. pure vanilla extract
2 tbsp. raw honey
1 tbsp. superfine flour such as Wondra

about 1 1/2 pounds fresh apricots (hit your local farmers' market!), pitted and halved, do not peel (I slice mine into moons but for a heavier fruit-to-bite ratio, just halve them)


1. Pre-heat oven to 375 degrees.
2. Butter bottom and sides of tart pan.
3. In large bowl, combine butter and sugar and, with a wooden spoon, stir to blend. Add the almond and vanilla extracts, salt, flour, and stir to form a soft, cookie-like dough. Do not let it form into a ball. (I find mine to be very crumbly and unable to hold into a ball even if it wanted to - it's still OK) Transfer dough into the center of buttered tart pan and using the tips of your fingers, evenly press the pastry onto the bottom and sides of the pan. The dough will be quite thin.
4. Place the pan in the center of the oven and bake until the dough is slightly puffy and set about 12 to 15 minutes. Sprinkle the almonds on the crust. This will prevent it from becoming soggy.
5. Meanwhile, prepare the cream. In a medium-size bowl, combine cream, egg, both extracts and honey and whisk to blend. Then whisk in superfine flour.
6. Starting just inside the edge of the pre-baked pastry pan, neatly overlap the halved or half-moon slices of apricots, cut side up at a slight angle. Make 2 or 3 concentric circles working towards the center. (I ran out of apricots and added a sprinkling of blueberries to fill in the gaps as you can clearly see.)
7. Pour the cream evenly over the fruit. Place in center of oven and bake until the filling is firm and the pasty is deep golden brown, 50 to 60 minutes. The apricots will shrivel slightly. Allow to cool before slicing.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Summer Fruit Sunday

Every Sunday morning I feel like treating myself. And for no other reason than, Hey, it's Sunday!, which is enough for me. Some people go to church and others, like myself, find their sacred impenetrable spot on a plate or in a bowl.

Traditionally my treat includes coffee, which I don't normally drink (cry for me - I'll explain later) and some form of delicious local pastry or eggs and bacon, or my fave of all time, the Bacon Waffle at Walker Brothers. The Bacon Waffle also deserves it own blog post but I'll save it for another time. "So it shall be written, so it shall be done..."

But I am currently obsessed with summer fruit and consuming as much of it as humanly possible. Our window of time to enjoy it is so damn short. I'm also spending part of today making a fruit tart for a friend's birthday party tonight and I'll be sharing that with you later.

This lovely, impromptu creation is simply cut up local plums from the farmers' market and papaya, which I love; I bought a biggun on sale this week and I'm enjoying finding different ways to use it. I also recently discovered sheep's milk yogurt. This is from Whole Foods by the Old Chatham Sheepherding Company in New York's Hudson Valley. I love the texture of it and the tang! Then I chopped up toasted almonds and drizzled away with raw, local honey from Bron's Bees, sold at the Heritage Prairie farm stand at Green City Market.

And to make sure I'm not sounding overly pious, I want you to know I followed this up with a hearty portion of bacon and eggs.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Kitten Capers?

I apologize for veering a little off course in this short post but the other day I Googled the word 'Caper' and one of the options that came up had this headline:"Kitten Capers." How could I not click on that? Turns out it's just this incredibly cloying collectible plate from the Franklin Mint. Not exactly the kind of capers I was looking for.

I am sorry but that just gives me the giggles.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Pork Burgers A La Nigel Slater

I don't know about you but I crave Asian flavors. It's become a pattern that my craving comes very suddenly and without warning and I get this unreasonable urge to sate it immediately. I usually end up going out to sate it instead of making something at home.

I try to remedy that problem by keeping as many Asian food staples in my pantry as possible. They're generally inexpensive and useful in a myriad of ways. I don't pretend to know how to recreate a lot of the dishes I love, at home but having some of the basic ingredients around like kaffir lime leaves, lemon grass, red chile paste, mirin, a good dark soy sauce, ginger, basil, cilantro, fish sauce, coconut milk and hot, fresh or dried peppers means I can occasionally throw something together that will satisfy me in a pinch. I know that sounds like a lot to think about but the ingredients last a little while and all that might literally run you about $12 to $15 at an Asian market.

And thank god for Nigel Slater's book The Kitchen Diaries. He's a well known food writer in London and it's his personal diary of meals recorded for one full year and divided into months so it's very seasonal. He's also an incredibly unfussy and almost lazy cook, which I love, and everything in the book makes me drool.

Example: So one day he happens to have bacon and an avocado at home so he makes the bacon in a fry pan, pulls it out crisp, throws some sherry vinegar in with the drippings to deglaze the pan and then tosses the whole shebang over the avocado and eats it with rye bread.

Are you kidding me? Sign me up!

The way this book is written continually underscores that cooking is about PLEASURE (remember pleasure?); it's a sensualist's dream if you ask me. Reading it makes me ache to cook, now how's that for a glowing endorsement?

He also loves flavors from warm climates such as Southeast Asia and India and it's definitely reflected in many of his recipes. So far, I can vouch that so much of what I've made from his book is easy (beginner easy) and incredibly satisfying.

I made his Pork Burgers with Lime Leaves and Cilantro last night and ate it with a little homemade cucumber salad. Just cucumbers, thinly sliced red onion, cilantro, some rice vinegar, a touch of sugar and salt.

Break out the Riesling!

Adapted from Nigel Slater's The Kitchen Diaries

scallions - 4
hot red chile peppers and their seeds - 4
garlic - 4 medium cloves
the stalks and leaves from a small bunch of cilantro
ginger - a thumb-sized lump
limes leaves - 6
(also added some basil leaves and a touch of fish sauce to mine)
*smoked pancetta or slab bacon - 4 oz
*ground pork - 1.25 lbs
a little veggie or peanut oil for frying

Chop scallions, peppers, garlic and cilantro and finely grate ginger. Roll and shred the lime leaves very fine (and basil if you use it).

Throw it all in the food processor and process until it's finely chopped and well mixed like a paste. Scrape the paste out into a large bowl, and add a couple dashes fish sauce if you please.

Cut the pancetta or bacon then process in the processor to a coarse mush. Add that to the spice paste in the bowl along with the ground pork and mix with your hands adding a little salt and pepper along the way. Chill for a half hour in the fridge to meld flavors.

Roll the seasoned, chilled pork into about twelve balls and flatten into patties. Heat a heavy, shallow pan, add some oil and cook for several minutes a side over relatively high heat until they brown nicely and cook through the middle. Squeeze some lime juice on top and eat with cucumber salad and jasmine rice optional.

*If you can find local pork, I highly recommend it. It benefits you, the pigs and the environment. In Chicago, Twin Oaks Farms sells their sustainably raised pork at Green City Market on Saturdays.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

The Food Network Casting Call

It would have been so much easier for me to stay in bed with the New York Times and a steaming bowl of latte this past Sunday morning, but I forced myself to go. I needed a challenge. It was for a spot on the 2010 season of The Next Food Network Star. I filled out the eleven page application with questions such as, If you were a vegetable, what would you be? A roasted poblano pepper. Why? Because I'm earthy, spicy and add depth to everything.

I pulled together a couple photos and got my resume professionally printed for the occasion. I also slipped them copies of my Huff Post columns so they could get a feel for my philosophy and culinary style.

This was the protocol: I waited almost two hours in a room of about 100 people. They called numbers in the order you signed in and you got 3 to 4 minutes of time with an interviewer while they taped you on camera. Everyone was asked the same questions (short answers provided): What do you do? right now - craft service & write. Are you self-taught or professionally schooled? self-taught. Why are you here? to get my message to a wider audience. What's one of your signature dishes? warm new potato salad with capers, parsley, garlic & mint. What's your unique culinary point of view? eat real food!

Truth is, I don't have a working TV anymore since the digital turnover; I haven't had cable in about 8 years and I've never seen the show. I went primarily to stretch myself. I'm carrying a torch here - I care very much about making a difference in the way people eat and live and it was great practice to be in front of a camera talking about that. And I'm proud to report I did a stellar job. I walked away feeling a great rush of energy, incredibly self-confident and well-spoken. It was well worth it.

If I'm perceiving the crowd correctly I'd say they were mostly an interesting mix of restaurant kitchen veterans and home cooks. There was a pair of young women who's names were called the same time as mine and we spent about five minutes together in the anteroom before going into interview. They were two friends who'd driven in together from Milwaukee. They had this schticky banter going non-stop in loud, caustic clips. Their very presence made me agitated. All I could think was, "Man, if I had to live in a house with these two broads, I'd blow my brains out." And that's precisely what makes for good tension on a reality show. Perhaps it was meant to be that I didn't get a call back.

Now on to my next challenge.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

My Secret Weapon

I am so excited to share this with you. This is a young coconut. Discovering young coconuts and their oil has been one of the sweetest additions to my life in the last year.

I was taking a class in New York when I stumbled upon the takeaway stand of Pure Food & Wine, New York City's premiere raw food restaurant. I desperately needed a pick me up and a man behind the counter was opening a young coconut and asked me if I'd tried one. He served me a taste of the coconut water and "spoon meat" inside. It was one of the most refreshing things I'd ever eaten.

I became obsessed. I went home and did my research and began buying them by the case at Whole Foods. Turns out, they're one of the most life-giving foods on the planet. Check this out; history buffs will especially find this interesting. It's taken directly from the Living-Foods website:

"Coconut water is a natural isotonic beverage, with the same level of electrolytic balance as we have in our blood. It's the fluid of life, so to speak. In fact, during the Pacific War of 1941-45, both sides in the conflict regularly used coconut water - siphoned directly from the nut - to give emergency plasma transfusions to wounded soldiers."

Can you believe the water mimics blood plasma? Who knew?

Opening these, if done incorrectly can be quite dangerous. It took me a while to get the hang of it, but all you need is a cutting board and a chef's knife. The easiest method I've found for opening these suckers, is clearly demonstrated in this YouTube video.

So how do you use them, you ask? Well, the raw community does all kinds of things with them that I've honestly yet to try. Google young coconut recipes and you'll get more than you bargained for. If you're a first-timer, you can simply drink the water and pry the meat out with the back of a spoon to see if you like it. The spoon meat is chock full of pure, raw and incredibly healthy saturated fat. The texture can vary by coconut. Sometimes it's firm and medium-hard and other times it's almost gelatinous. Throwing the water and meat in a blender with a banana or any fruit for that matter is delicious. Throw in some protein and green powder and you have an incredibly healthy meal. I start most days with a coconut smoothie.

But wait, there's more! The cold-pressed, organic, virgin oil from these coconuts is also sold in jars at Whole Foods. My favorite is the Nutiva brand. Some people cook with it, but I use it as my face and body moisturizer and here's the big news: it makes the greatest massage oil and lube (yes, I said lube), you will ever encounter. Trust me on this one. However, you can't use latex products with it as it will compromise the latex.

So run, don't walk, and get yourself some. You can thank me later.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

A Simple Summer Meal

This was my dinner tonight. I shared it with my dear friend, Jocelyn. I had no desire to cook or prepare anything as I had injured my back earlier in the week. So what did I do? I threw together a simple, somewhat seasonal, summer nosh. I have a collection of wood fired tea bowls from the great Chuck Solberg, a potter in St. Paul, Minnesota. I throw all kinds of snacks in those bowls, haul it onto the deck with a beautiful bottle of wine and call it a night.

Top left hand corner we start with the strangely fantabulous Tom Yum Cashews from Trader Joe's. If you like Thai flavors, you will love these. Lemongrass, fish sauce, Kaffir lime leaves - definitely a conversation starter.

Next, the wooden bowl on the right we have roasted salted fava beans from Middle East Bakery in Andersonville. I know, I mention them a lot. I love them. They make a great variety of homemade prepared foods like fava bean dip, hummous, falafel, kibbeh and you can't beat the price on their olives by the pound. I often go there before a trip to Ravinia, to stock up and create a great picnic meal.

Next bowl on the right we have a heaping pile of Michigan cherries from Seedling Fruit.

Below, in the bottom right corner are the remains of a hunk of Persian Fetta. It comes from Australia in a lovely metal tin marinated in olive oil, herbs and big chunks of garlic. Sam's Wine sells it in their deli.

Rounding the corner in the green bowl is the much celebrated pickled asparagus as seen a couple of posts back.

To its left are some brown rice and caraway crackers - both gluten free and delicious.

And finally, the star of the show - Colorouge - a washed rind cow's milk cheese from Colorado available at my favorite neighborhood wine shop - Provenance.

Friday, July 10, 2009


For two days this week, I was fortunate to work craft service for a TV commercial. Craft service is essentially providing drinks and snacks for the crew and talent on a commercial, TV show or film shoot. I had to provide for 40 people who work long hours and for the most part, appear to live primarily on caffeine and cigarettes. I honestly haven't seen that many people smoking since early episodes of Kojak.

A traditional craft services table is full of bowl upon bowl of junk food: M&M's, chips, candy bars, gum, pretzels and the requisite platter of fruit. Coffee is always percolating and the caffeinated soda always flowing. Crew and talent pop in for a quick fix, something they can grab and go.

Knowing my Real Food bent, my friend Eve, who's a producer on the job, hired me to clean up the joint as they say. She just knew I would do a conscientious job and provide, with care, some real food alternatives.

I knew I wanted to make a difference any way I could. I also knew I had to compromise my values so to speak and provide junk. There would be a major revolt if there weren't candy, cookies, gum, chips and other industry standards at the table. And I'll be honest, it was a little soul crushing to purchase some of that stuff. But my M.O. was strategic if not long range: I was going to present food that would surprise and delight them and maybe even plant some seeds down the road. (Call me delusional, but I prefer optimistic) I created a menu that was great-tasting, beautifully presented and REAL and I did it with pleasure.

The first thing I laid out was falafel from Middle East Bakery. I got wide, clear plastic cups and cut open one falafel ball in each, drizzled it with tahini sauce and topped it off with a cherry tomato, cucumber slice and fork. Total hit!

I also did a Caprese/Pasta Salad on a skewer with cherry tomato, basil, fresh mozz and spinach tortellini and drizzled my mint basil pesto on one batch and a homemade balsamic vinaigrette for the next. Bonafide smash!

Next I made smoked turkey and cheddar sandwiches on mini parker house rolls with dijon and a cornichon attached to the top by a toothpick. Hell, I'm not reinventing the wheel but they were good.

Being the clever lady I am, I also put up a sign on the wall above my table that said, "ASK ME ABOUT SMOOTHIES." I brought my blender and was making smoothies on the spot for people and they loved it. I did one that was frozen banana, organic peanut butter, apple cider and almond milk. (If you wanted to turn it into a milk shake, substitute a fresh banana for a frozen one and vanilla ice cream for almond milk)

By special request I also created my own frozen coffee smoothies: just blend cooled coffee, organic half and half, agave nectar and a ton of ice. Take that Starbucks! Addictively delicious and without a trace of corn syrup!

Monday, July 6, 2009

Pickled Snicky Snacks

I know what you're thinking. You're thinking, "Hey, Dana Joy, when do you find time to pickle?" Well, dear readers, I make time. And, I've become one of pickling's biggest fans. Yes, it is slightly time consuming and you have to project in to the future a bit to enjoy them. Not only do they take about four weeks to cure but they require some vision. What gets me to commit to the process is envisioning some dark mid-winter day when I've been eating braised meats, kale and potatoes for what feels like years and I'm just aching for something fresh and bright and a harbinger of warm, sunny days ahead. And then, I reach into my cupboard and grab a jar of these babies. They brighten everything they touch and they give me hope. More important, they taste damn good. They also make great hostess gifts - they're showy in a Little House on the Prairie-kind of way.

I did this batch with a good friend. It's easier than you think, requires little equipment save for Ball Jars which are super cheap (and can be found at Ace Hardware stores) and a canning jar lifter which is essential. I got mine at Sur La Table. It took the better part of an afternoon and we celebrated our bounty by sharing a great beer.

I eat these right out of the jar, I serve them as snickey snacks during cocktail hour or as part of an antipasti course. I throw them in salads and they're the perfect accompaniment to braised and smoky meats.

The recipe we used is from the New York Times, adapted from the book, Well-Preserved by Eugenia Bone. Instead of me typing it out, just click HERE.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

I Can't Believe I'm Still Blogging

Quite a shocker. I've just been so inspired in the kitchen lately and being a classic introvert, I'm discovering that being able to share things I'm passionate about without opening my mouth to speak, sometimes, is a godsend.

So, it's a rainy 4th of July here in Chicago and it suits me just fine. I'm sitting under an umbrella on my deck, writing, drinking tea and eating some homemade skillet cornbread fresh from the oven.

When I was a child, my Grandma Skeets had a pretty reliable repertoire of things she would make. One of them was Jiffy Corn Muffins. I'd help mix them and end up eating quite a bit of the batter raw. Perhaps I was drawn to the strong metallic kick from the baking powder. What can I say? I can't defend my childhood tastes, I just loved it.

Anyway, this is a very special skillet cornbread recipe from the book, Fresh Every Day by Sara Foster. I use local, non-homogenized buttermilk and fresh ground corn meal from Three Sister's Farm at Green City Market. I just ate it for breakfast with room temperature butter and raw honey. It would be great reheated as a side to salad or with a plate of fried eggs and sauteed greens. When summer tomatoes arrive, I might make panzanella salad out of it the next day after it dries out a bit. Just a thought.


Use a 10 or 12 inch cast iron, enamel clad cast iron, or stainless (such as All Clad) skillet

2 tbsp olive oil or bacon grease
1 1/2 cups yellow cornmeal
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
3 tbsp sugar
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
2 tsp salt
2 cups well-shaken buttermilk
2 large eggs beaten
2 tbsp unsalted butter melted and cooled to room temperature

preheat oven at 425F.
pour olive oil or bacon grease in skillet, tilt to coat sides, place in preheated oven.
stir together cornmeal, flour, sugar, baking soda and powder, salt in large mixing bowl.
add buttermilk, eggs and butter, blend with spoon until smooth, don't over-mix.
remove hot skillet from oven and pour batter in (it will sizzle which is awesome!) and bake for 20-25 minutes until toothpick comes out clean and slightly golden brown.
wait for 5 to 10 minutes before cutting in.

I Can See Clearly Now

An impromptu bike ride yesterday led me to these glass canisters at CB2. Two sizes fits coffee, tea, grains, nuts, you name it. Perfect for pantry and fridge. And apparently the bathroom.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Couldn't Help Myself

I know. I know what I said about not blogging. But I'm having a cooking moment and I desperately want to share. Why? Because it's so friggin'good and the ingredients are happening NOW and the technique is so beautifully simple. I dedicated this whole day to quiet introspection and to cooking new things and I'm proud to say I've found a winner.

I just made Mint Basil Pesto (from my deck herb pots) and also my first ever ricotta gnocchi from scratch. the pesto is insane; bright, a little salty, rich and freshly herbaceous all in the same gasp.

you could use this on pasta, on lamb chops, grilled or pan seared fish, you could drizzle it over bruschetta with a dab of ricotta and freshly shelled peas or on - gasp - ricotta gnocchi (so easy to make!) Just so you know, I have been intimidated by doughs of all kinds. Just never wanted to go there - didn't think I could handle it. But my love of tactile pleasures in addition to the recipe's promise that it's super easy, fast (15 minutes!) and guaranteed to satisfy won me over. I also feel like I accomplished something - I learned something new and my senses are so incredibly happy.


this is adapted from a Giada De Laurentis recipe on

throw everything but the olive oil in a food processor and turn it on. slowly drip the oil through the top as it's running and stop occasionally to spatula the sides down and re-integrate. pesto doesn't like air (it will turn dark) so put this in a jar and cover with additional oil on top if you'll be storing it. try and use it within 3 days.

1 1/2 cups lightly packed fresh mint leaves
3/4 cup lightly packed fresh basil leaves
1/2 cup walnuts, toasted (I used closer to a quarter cup, actually)
2 tablespoons freshly grated Parmesan or Pecorino Romano
1.5 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
2 garlic cloves
3/4 teaspoon salt, plus more for seasoning
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, plus more for seasoning
1/3 cup plus 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil