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When I started to write this post, I was awaiting the results of a blood test to determine if I had celiac. Oh joy. I was pretty pissed about it too. I’m a pastry chef. Wheat flour is my job, something I work with every day. A positive diagnosis would be difficult in so many ways and I was overwhelmed thinking about where to even begin. Forgive me if I sound flip and self absorbed. For those that do have celiac or high gluten intolerances, I feel for you. As a friend put it, “I had no idea how terrible I’ve felt my whole life.” I get it. Believe me, I do. But coming right back to the “what about me” realm, I panicked at the thought of giving up my beloved bread and pastries. My favorite food group, besides blue of course, is carbs. A positive would break my heart. But I came up with a plan: I would think about it after I got back from France. Yep. That was my plan. Temporary avoidance. Solid, right? I also decided to bake this bread as a sort of childish middle finger at it all. But also because it’s really really good and I wanted to enjoy it while I could. Then yesterday I received some good news: negative. Oh thank you thank you thank you! To celebrate, I had a warm slice slathered in fancy butter. Because I’m worth it. Now they’re talking lactose intolerance. Arrggghhhh. Later. When I get back.

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Eton Mess. Sounds delicious, doesn’t it? Oh those Brits. Makes you wonder what they were thinking when they named things like Spotted Dick, Jam Roly Poly and Stargazey Pie. So let me tell you about “Eton Mess”. It’s a delightful traditional English dessert said to have originated in the 19th century at the hoity toity British boarding school and is traditionally served on June 4th at the annual cricket game against the rival Harrow School. It always contains ripe fresh strawberries, whipped cream and meringue bits all sort of folded together or if you’re fancy, layered parfait style, in a bowl or cup. The strawberry juices run into the cream, which soaks into the crunchy meringue bits making one delicious mess of a dessert.

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Pickles are a truly wonderful thing and it’s time to think beyond the ubiquitous spears and floppy slices found on bad bar burgers. In Chicago and around the country, they’re currently in the midst of a robust renaissance with all kinds of pickled delights on store shelves and menus touting “housemade pickles” left and right. My refrigerator and pantry shelves, home to all kinds of interesting items, typically have a slew of different types at any given time. Right now, I have no less than eight jars of different pickled things in my fridge and can put together a helluva spread in no time (see above). I’ve taken to pickling everything lately as it’s a great way to preserve too much garden or farmers market bounty and this week I pickled strawberries. Green strawberries. True story.

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Growing up in Arizona, during the blazing summer months I’d wake up early, throw on my bathing suit, and run out the door at the first possible moment. Sometimes, I wouldn’t come home until dinnertime. We were a neighborhood of girls, all within a year or two of each other, each with younger siblings. My day would consist of running back and forth between various backyard pools, getting shooed away only when the little ones had to take naps. We were a rowdy, noisy lot and this minor inconvenience didn’t slow us down in the least. We’d just go to the next pool and continue in this fashion until it was time to move onto the next house or go home. I’d like to think the neighborhood moms coordinated their infant’s sleep schedules to accommodate our summer priorities. Sure they did.

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I’m drowning in stuff. Various recipe development projects have left me with bags, tins, jars and cans of ingredients that no matter how much I try to organize, end up in big piles every which way all over the place. I always seem to be looking for the one thing that isn’t where I think it is and create a disaster to be dealt with at a later date. My freezer isn’t much better with bits of this and that crammed into every available space. I seem to have stockpiled a lot of bacon in there. Is that a bad thing? A houseguest recently gave me a lot of s*%$ about this as she was trying to find space for a pint of ice cream. (It was tight, but we got it in there.) Then last week a bag of frozen peas catapulted itself at my head in an attempt to escape. Alright, message received. This food clutter needed to be dealt with, one item at a time. So I started with those peas. Baby steps.

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I’ve been spending quite a bit of my time these days working on recipe development projects for various companies and restaurants, and while I very much enjoy it, the process pretty much sucks up all my creative juices leaving little for personal projects. And so goes the fates of this blog. It also fills my home with endless bags, tubs and boxes of ingredients. My apartment looks like a ransacked grocery store right now. First world problems. Appetizers, entrees, desserts, snacks, sauces … name it, I’ve done it in the last few months and have the leftover groceries to prove it. If there’s ever a zombie apocalypse, come over here. We’ll eat well for years.

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Every February, with a few notable exceptions, I focus on chocolate. Chocolate cakes and cookies and pies and other delicious little things because it seems appropriate. Visions of chocolate hearts cloud our vision during these four weeks. Plus it’s cold and I think chocolate is a proper distraction until the beautiful summer fruits start appearing. Sheepish admission here … I’m not much of a chocolate person so I figure if I’m going to eat chocolate, it better be good. I’m getting a late start this month but I’m kicking off with a bang. These cookies are good.

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