Baked Treats

Lemony Olive Oil Tea Cakes

May 14, 2023

I am just back from TUTTOFOODMilano, Italy’s biggest food exposition. (Akin to our National Restaurant Association show, but on Italian-design steroids (!) The quality of the food that makers were peddling was head spinning, from truffles and balsamico, to fine pastas and panettone. I sampled Zaffiro Blu, a new sheep’s milk cheese from Sardegna, waited in line for slivers of cured Iberian acorn-fed pork shoulder, and marveled over new potted cream desserts made from the milk of buffalo carefully tended in the Cilento and Vallo di Diano National Park. But I kept coming back to olive oil.

In Italy, olive oil production is multi-generational, as families work to keep ancient traditions alive while they also bring new products to market. The Barberas, for example, launched Italy’s oldest brand of olive oil in Sicily 120 years ago, and are still at it, with eight different product lines, and 35+ oils including Lorenzo No. 5 which I like very much in this recipe (It can’t be an accident that the label reminds one of a famous perfume!)

 But while Italians have been cooking with olive oil for hundreds of years, olive oil’s popularity in the U.S. kicked in more recently, and is still growing. According to statistics from Statista, olive oil consumption in the States doubled in the last 20 years—up from 209,000 metric tons at the start of the millennium, to more than 406,000 now.

With its rise in usage here, most cooks now know to match the type of olive oil they choose to what they are making.  High heat applications such as sautéing or frying tend to flatten flavors within olive oil. So, fancier oils are usually reserved for raw applications where the heat-sensitive volatile element won’t dissipate. But baking is the exception!

Which brings me to these lovely olive oil tea cakes.  When you bake any cake, the internal temperature doesn’t go much higher than 200 degrees. As a result, the fruity, floral, grassy or peppery notes in a good extra virgin olive oil remain intact. Experiment and try a few to find which you think shines brightest here.  Barbera’s Lorenzo No. 5,  (pressed from pitted, hand-harvested Nocellara del Belice olives,) has a soft creaminess and lightly spicy floral scent which I really like.

And the cake is so easy to make! Everything is quickly mixed and bakes up in less than half an hour.  I use a parchment lined 13x18x1-inch pan to bake the cake as a sheet (the parchment makes it easy to lift out) and a 2-inch biscuit cutter to cut the cooled cake into little petit four circles. (Cut the cake into bars instead, if you wish.) Brushed with lemon-sugar glaze and garnished with fruit, these make for very pretty snacking or fancier soirees. Continue Reading…

Bowl Food

Parsley Cilantro Pistachio Pesto

April 30, 2023

Pesto is a recipe that hardly needs a recipe—so versatile + quick + inviting of experimentation. I am constantly changing up the herb + nut component, curious at how this changes flavors. This version—with parsley, cilantro, lemon and pistachio was inspired by dear Tory O’Haire (thanks for that!!)  and I love making it. As with any pesto, you can add a bit more (or less) garlic to alter the pungency. Continue Reading…

Bowl Food

Fennel, Farro + Mushroom Bowl

April 24, 2023

Spring greens everything up in April, bringing welcome fresh growth. Foragers search the woods for wild ramps and mushrooms. And I search stores for one of my favorite vegetables: Snow white, frond-sy fennel. I’ll never forget buying it one April at the outdoor market stalls in Palermo, Italy, where fennel is called, “Finocchio.” I’ve long loved the anise-like taste and crunch of it raw, but when roasted, fennel sheds that licorice flavor to become lusciously sweet and caramelly.

Paired with the sexy silkiness of exotic mushrooms, nutty farro, zesty lemon and fresh snipped parsley, this warm bowl is delicious on its own, or as a side dish. I like to serve it with a drizzle of balsamic syrup and smattering of shaved parmesan. I made this with an assortment of beautiful exotic mushrooms (Lion’s Mane, Oyster and Chestnut) grown at Windy City Mushrooms, and available for pick-up at the Village Farmstand in Evanston, but sub in any tender fresh mushrooms you like.

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Grilled Ham & Cheese

Cubano Sandwich

April 10, 2023

What to do with the leftover Easter ham? Make Cubano Sandwiches! Cuban immigrants to Tampa and Key West who came to work in the cigar industry are credited with the creation of this perfect grilled ham and cheese, although exact provenance is a little hazy. There are records of it being a worker’s lunch in Cuba first, where it would have been made with Cuban bread and pressed in a plancha, before it came to Florida. Without a plancha you can finish the sandwich in a panini press, or just pan griddle it in a little Continue Reading…

Baked Treats

Hot Cross Buns

March 30, 2023

“One ha’ penny, two ha’ penny, hot cross buns!” was once a British street-vendor cry heralding the sale of spiced and fruit-studded buns traditionally eaten on Good Friday. When I was a little girl, I loved the American version of these buns, soft and warm, with snow-white icing crosses piped over their glossy tops.

The buns are generally linked with Christian symbolism (crosses for Christ’s crucifixion, citrus peel for the bitterness of his last drink, and spices for his shroud) but food historians tell us they have pagan roots. Ancient Romans offered cross-marked buns to their moon goddess Diana. And before that, Saxons baked buns etched with horns in a cross-shape meant to represent the four quarters of the moon’s cycle. Briton’s went on to credit the buns with all sorts of good luck: Curing illness, protecting from shipwrecks, warding off kitchen fires and more. Me? I just like the way they taste!

Although store-bought ones come with just raisins or currants, I like extra dried fruits and candied fruit peel. My recipe plumps a mix of seedless black raisins, sultanas, dried apricots, and sweetened dried cranberries in hot rum. That, plus a few tablespoons of home-made candied citrus peel makes them delicious. The dough is spiced with a freshly grated nutmeg, Jamaiican allspice, ground cinnamon and clove. Continue Reading…

Chilled Desserts

Cherries Jubilee

February 14, 2023

Famed French chef Georges Auguste Escoffier had a long association with England, working with César Ritz of the Ritz Hotel empire to make The Savoy Hotel in London an unparalleled success with royals and the wealthy in the 1890s. Knowing of Queen Victoria’s fondness for cherries, Escoffier set to work creating a special dessert for her Diamond Jubilee in 1897. To make it, he poached cherries in sugar syrup, reduced and thickened the juice with arrowroot, placed the mixture in silver timbales, and set them aflame with heated Kirsch. Continue Reading…

Gluten/Egg/Dairy Free

Sweetheart Tart: Red Berry and Custard (Gluten-, Dairy- and Egg-Free)

February 10, 2023

When I hear, “Valentine’s Day,” the queen of hearts rhyme I learned as a tot, always pops to mind: “The queen of hearts, she made some tarts, all on a summer’s day, The knave of hearts, he stole those tarts, and with them run away…” (I think the illustration of the skinny-legged “knave” running off with the tarts in the nursery primer was what fascinated me most.) Anyway, thinking about the verse recently, I poked around and discovered it was written by an anonymous poet in the 1700s, who added three more scandalous stanzas that definitely wouldn’t fly in the nursery. I’m guessing you’ve never heard them either, so here you go:

The queen of hearts, she made some tarts, all on a summer’s day,
⁠The knave of hearts, he stole those tarts, and with them run away:
⁠The king of hearts call’d for those tarts and beat the knave full sore;
⁠The knave of hearts brought back those tarts, and said he’ll ne’er steal more. (continued through link)
Continue Reading…

Vintage Veg

Cauliflower Bacon + PepperJack Gratin

January 18, 2023

Step aside, mac and cheese! This saucy cauliflower bake, with bacon, onion, and pepper jack cheese under a crisp crumb topping, is vegetal-ly better. Quite literally edible flowers, heads of cauliflower are the mildest-flavored members of the cruciferous vegetable family.

Yes, bacon, cheese, mustard-cream and Panko makes this comfort food—but with vegetal benefits. Like its more aggressive sibs, cauliflower is full of antioxidants, essential vitamins and minerals, anti-inflammatory compounds, fiber and more.

To make the gratin, you’ll simmer the cauli-florets with bacon and onion in chicken stock and milk, make the sauce, top with panko, and bake until bubbly. We like to serve the gratin with freshly sliced tomatoes and steamed green beans, but it works well as a side for roast chicken. If you have any leftovers, the gratin keeps well for second-day service.

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Happy Holidays

Roast Pork Tenderloin with Grapes, Pomegranate, Fingerlings & Shallots

December 19, 2022

I often hum in the kitchen, especially when the meal prep is for a special gathering. For this delicious pork loin dish–with parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme all fragrantly present, the tune had to be Simon & Garfunkel’s “Scarborough Fair.”

I first encountered a version of this recipe 17 years ago, in acclaimed chef Suzanne Goin’s James Beard Award winning cookbook, “Sunday Suppers at Lucques.” Goin’s Los Angeles restaurant Lucques lasted for nearly 21 years, closing in 2020, but the beautiful recipes in her cookbook live on! The New York Times did a version of the loin 16 years ago, replacing spring onions and haricot verts with shallots, grapes and fingerling potatoes, which I liked very much. To give the dish a holiday slant that goes very well with the pork, ours has a tart/sweet sauce made with fresh-pressed pomegranate juice and white wine.

Honoring Goin’s practice of using best possible ingredients, I make this with farm-sourced produce, and use French Dijon for the mustard marinade (Maille is good—Bornier, even better!) I use champagne grapes, but seedless red grapes (choose small, firm ones) works as well. Continue Reading…


Classic Braised Beef Brisket with Caramelized Onions + Vegetables

December 18, 2022

Evanston-based poet and accomplished home cook Ori Fienberg likes Hanukkah latkes just fine, but his feast food favorite is most definitely a beautiful beef brisket. Fienberg, who calls cold weather “the braise days,” says his best tips for making a perfect holiday brisket are, “One: Don’t fear the fond. (The brown bits that form on the bottom of the pot when you sear the meat and cook the onions.) And two: Make a LOT of caramelized onions.” Continue Reading…