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Marcella Hazan, often described as the Julia Child of Italian food, has written some remarkable cookbooks. I own several and they have never steered me wrong. When I needed a lasagne recipe, not being a lasagne fan, it was to Marcella that I turned. It was a remarkable lasagne. Sadly, she passed away in 2013, crushing my dreams of taking one of her cooking classes but she left behind quite the legacy. I’ve been reading about her butter tomato sauce for years yet have never made it. Like many things that receive endless glowing reviews – Harry Potter books, Mad Men, LaLa Land, Chik-Fil-A – I tend to run the other way. If everyone is enthusiastically waxing on and on about something I become suspicious. Misguided? Probably. Cynical? Certainly. This tomato sauce was definitely one of those things. Just four ingredients? How good could it be? How many tomato sauce recipes does one really need? I was pretty sure I was fine. How wrong I was.

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In college, my favorite bar hands down was an Irish bar. I went to one of those big Arizona so called “party” schools, packed with scruffy sports bars serving $2 pitchers of Coors Light. Don’t get me wrong, I frequented those establishments often but when my friends and I had a spare 10 bucks we’d head to our Irish bar for pints of Guinness or black and tans (Guinness and Harp) and a few rounds of darts. It wasn’t until much later, in Chicago, that I discovered the other Guinness drinks: the Black Velvet – Guinness and champagne – and the Snakebite – Guinness and Hard Cider. Being a champagne and a Guinness lover, I could never really get behind mixing the two but a Snakebite was quite nice on occasion. The deep dark notes of the stout were accented rather nicely by the tart, effervescent cider. Today, for St. Patrick’s Day I made this combination into a cake. Of course I did.

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3.14159265, the ratio of the distance around a circle to the circle’s diameter. Guess what? Today, March 14th, is “Pi Day” the day to celebrate math and science, very important things we need to understand the world around us. Quite clever, I think. We bakers also celebrate Pi Day though we tend to think of it as Pie Day. We are funny people. Pastry dough, a sweet or savory filling and most of the time, a little heat to crisp the whole thing up. No surprise, this can go in many directions. Today, I chose to celebrate Pie Day with lovely little hand pies.

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I’ve long been charmed by beer bread recipes. Mix a few ingredients with a can of beer and pop it in the oven for a quick, delicious loaf. It’s usually the first bread most people learn to make; a few ingredients, one bowl, super easy. The problem is, they rarely deliver on the delicious promise. There’s a particular mix that I’ve seen touted again and again and it’s just not good. There’s a weird chemical flavor that permeates each bite and I do not have time for that. Beer bread should be relatively easy to make, why not make one that tastes good? So I did. In honor of St. Patrick’s Day, I have a Guinness beer bread today, one made with whole grains and yes, some dark, delicious beer.

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Humble ingredients often make the best dishes and onions are the secret weapon in everyone’s pantry. What is not improved by adding an onion? I start nearly every dinner with a diced onion, some olive oil and a hot pan. Every culture’s cuisine has a similar starting point – mirepoix, Cajun trinity, sofrito, battuto, recaíto – a starting base of onions and a mix of other vegetables that create a flavorful base. There may be carrots and celery, or green pepper, or include chilies or maybe herbs but it always starts with the humble onion. Cook onions nice and slow and entire dishes can be built around those deeply caramelized, flavorful strands. French Onion Soup is just one example that illustrates the magic of a caramelized onion. This is another one of those recipes.

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I spend an inordinate amount of my time dealing with leftovers, which is funny because I don’t particularly care for them. Once I eat a meal, I’m done with very few exceptions. If I have people over for dinner, out comes my stash of takeout and deli containers, everything is neatly packed and labeled and goes out the door with my guests. I don’t want to see it again. But the bulk of my leftover issues lately are ingredients; an endless parade of bags, tubs and boxes of stuff. I develop recipes and every project typically involves a few shopping trips and a whole new set of ingredients. Once the project is complete, usually after several weeks, I have a dining room table full of stuff. Stuff I have to deal with quickly because the next project is usually on the horizon. I often joke that I’m going to have a “Kathy’s Pop Up Store of Half Used Bags of Stuff” in my dining room once a month. Come one, come all!

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Financiers are a basic standard in the repertoire of any pastry chef. A simple cake consisting of egg whites, powdered sugar, almond flour and a good bit of browned butter, they are traditionally baked in small bar molds and served as a mignardise or petit four at the end of the meal. They are rich, toothsome and best enjoyed as a small bite. The history around this traditional French cake comes from the Parisian financial district and the clever bakers in the surrounding shops. They developed sturdy little butter cakes, said to hold up well in pockets, to sustain the financial workers in their neighborhoods. Another theory is the name came from the traditional rectangular mold said to resemble a bar of gold. I suspect it’s a combination of both. These pâtisseries practiced a key business rule early on: know your customer. Marketing via the late 1800’s.

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