Linzertorte was one of those things that made me immensely happy in culinary school. I was tickled to finally be making all those old-school European pastries I’d pined for as a kid pouring over my mother’s cookbooks: Dobos Torte, Marjolaine, Opera Torte, Sacher Torte and yes, the linzer. Making my own, following the exacting instructions of a classically inclined chef, made me feel good about my seemingly off-the-cuff career change, from marketing to pastry. It also cemented a particular mindset I’d started to develop regarding classic pastries. Riffs and adaptations are welcome but one must know the classic, the original, first.  You have to know history before you can rewrite it.  With many things of this nature, I am a traditionalist and when it comes to linzer, I have a very defined set of parameters.

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Oh Valentine’s Day.  So much pressure, so many expectations, often so many disappointments. Falling on a Friday this year, I think it’s heightened even more. Good luck getting a reservation and with the weather lately, who knows what will happen. Slipping through icy streets to pack into a crowded restaurant with others working hard to enjoy themselves? Doesn’t sound too appealing to me. Here’s a thought:  stay in, watch a good movie, drink champagne and eat a lot of chocolate. Preferably in liquid form. Sounds good doesn’t it?

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I have a deep undying love for the Olympic Games. Each and every sport, the more obscure and small and unfamiliar, the better. I will DVR everything, set my alarm to watch Curling at 4am and delight in the unfamiliar combination events like Nordic Combined and the Biathlon.  I’m not sure in what life situation you’ll need to jump and cross-country ski but I’m glad there are incredibly gifted people out there that can jump really far and ski really fast over great distances. They tend to be from very cold Nordic countries and just crush it but the network always decides which sports will dominate prime time coverage – figure skating usually.  They don’t hold my interest as much as someone that hurls themselves down an ice shoot headfirst at 100 miles an hour.  I’ll take a short track, moguls course or the nuance of a finger wave when you’re hurtling down a jump shoot over a triple toe loop every time.

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For the last few years, February has been my month of chocolate. All chocolate, all the time with an occasional exception for Chinese New Year, the Olympics and Super Bowl snacks. It seems appropriate that February = chocolate. They just go together. To open the Month of Chocolate this year I wanted to start with Mexican chocolate, those discs of chocolate, cinnamon, sugar and ground almonds that seem to accumulate in my cupboards. I’ve been shifting one of the stupid octogon shaped boxes around far too much lately; it was time to do something with it. The last time it fell on my head, was the last. I just left it on the counter as a reminder to use it ASAP.

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In 2010, I wrote about Pretzel Rolls and it’s become far and away my most popular post over these past five years.  With good reason. They’re delicious, both on their own with a little butter and maybe a drizzle of honey or as the base of a fantastic sandwich.  Back when I wrote the post, I wasn’t happy with what I could find at the stores; they were always slightly stale and I found this incredibly annoying.  Why do we continue to buy subpar bread?  So I decided to call it quits developed my own recipe.  They’re not overly difficult than any yeast dough but with the added step of a baking soda poach to get that characteristic chewy brown crust.  Shortly thereafter, I used the dough to wrap all beef hot dogs for a much better version that what you can buy.  Then I just sat back and absentmindedly watched the hits, pleased that others found them as enjoyable as I did.

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When I was a kid, in the pre-little-sister days, celebration dinners were a big deal and sometimes took place at our favorite Chinese restaurant, China Doll.  There was one big deal dinner, in particular, that was to celebrate some work success of my father’s.  I think my Dad got a bonus check and we blew the whole thing on a big, ridiculous Chinese dinner.  This is the kind of thing we did and I loved it.  I remember this one especially because although our meals came with the standard appetizers – egg rolls and soup – my Dad ordered the one thing we were never allowed to get but always wanted.  The PuPu Platter, that classic over-the-top appetizer of 1970’s Chinese-American restaurants.  I often looked longingly at neighboring tables when the waitress brought the small flaming hibachi grill, as I sipped my egg drop soup with big sad eyes.  I so wanted to cook things on that tiny grill.  But that night, hallelujah, it was all ours! I was beyond ecstatic as the waitress moved a mound of plates to make room for the big platter, flaming grill and numerous bowls of sauces.  I nearly jumped out of my seat to put a sticky, sweet and oddly red colored sparerib onto the hot grill to “cook”.  I don’t know if it really did all that much but it was a helluva lot of fun. There were other things on that platter but the grill and the ribs is what you remembered.

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2014 has opened with a bang and the Sunday Lunch series is back on with a vengeance.  The latest one was a perennial favorite – Cassoulet Sunday!  Nothing gives a bigger middle finger to polar vortexes, dibs on shoveled parking spaces and wearing thermal underwear to the office than a steaming clay pot of beans, tasty duck parts and equally tasty pig parts.  It’s a helluva dish and if you’re not making it, then I feel sorry for you.

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