Apples and Roosters


Ever since my parents brought home an Apple IIc Plus in the late 80's, we've been serious fans of the company.  My brother even works for them now. So when the hard drive on my 2007 MacBook failed Monday night as I was uploading photos, it was comforting to know that, because I had recently backed up my data and the hardware was still under warranty, it would be a quick process to get it up and running again.  After a thirty minute Genius bar appointment at the Michigan Avenue store, I left with a new hard drive and an updated operating system.
It will take me a few more days to transfer all of my photos back to the computer and pick up editing were I left off, but I wanted to put up a quick post to remind all of you to back-up your data when you get home from work this evening.  I am so glad I recently did.
The lovely crepe you see in the photo is from the Rooster Cafe in St. Louis, Missouri.  My friends Matt and Diana were married in St. Louis this summer and while we were there we dined at this excellent restaurant every morning.  If you are ever in the city searching for brunch, I would highly suggest this establishment.

Grape and Almond Salad

Saladgrape copy

After work last week, I met my friend Ellen to catch up over a bottle of wine.  She had prepared a few snacks for us, and this grape, cilantro and almond salad blew me away. Neither of us are big cilantro fans, but the flavors in this salad work so perfectly together that I have a new-found appreciation for the herb. The dish only calls for six ingredients and it can be prepared in a matter of minutes. You can find Ellen's recipe here.   

A well-timed sale on grapes at my local grocery store has encouraged me to make this no less than three times in the last five days.  I'm seriously considering doing the same again tonight.

Spring Favorites


I know Spring won't officially get its start for another two weeks, but the last few days in Chicago have been a sweet reprieve from an arduous winter.  Mild mornings have coaxed me into longer runs as I get serious about training for my upcoming races, and the fresh air and sunlight have me feeling energized for the first time in months -- I really can't recall being so excited for daylight savings.

If you will allow me to waver from the normal thread of this website for a moment, I'd like to share a few things I am presently excited about.

I Hardly Know Her: A smart and simple design for Flickr photos.  You can see mine here.

The Publican:  Nick and I finally dined at this Fulton Market area restaurant and I can't recommend it highly enough.

Homemade Goat Cheese:  Nick has been making goat cheese for us at home with delicious results. A detailed post is in the works.

Quicken Online: I'm trying to get my finances in order and pay off loans and debt.  I've found Quicken Online to be a great, free tool to help me stay organized.  Mint is nice too, but I find that it has a longer lag time updating my accounts.

Baggu Produce Bags:  I'm a big fan of the Baggu grocery bags.  I always have one on me.  I was excited to see that they had added produce bags to their product line and I recently ordered one in both sizes.  I am very pleased with them and now I never need to use plastic at the store.

The Daily Mile:  As I continue with my new found interest in running, the dailymile has become a great resource.  I am able to track my distance, time, pace and upcoming races on their free site.  Please add me if you are a member, it will be a better motivator with friends!

Argentina: I finally cashed in all of my frequent flyer miles and Nick and I are heading to Buenos Aires, Argentina in May.  Needless to say, we are super excited.  We'd love recommendations of what to eat, drink and visit.

Other things that have me smitten: Sarah Haskins, Mad Men dvds, Scraping the Skillet's Dill Bread, and Orangette's new book -- Congratulations Molly!

Orange-Raspberry Scones


We celebrated Nick's birthday this weekend with a visit to the Art Institute of Chicago, a party at home with some friends, and a superb dinner at the Publican. As the weekend rounded out, fresh baked scones seemed like the ideal accompaniment to our snowy Sunday afternoon.


Orange-Raspberry Scones


2 C flour
2 Tbs sugar, plus more for sprinkling on top
1 Tbs baking powder
Grated zest of 1 orange
1/4 tsp salt
4 Tbs cold unsalted butter, cut into pieces
2 large eggs
1/2 C cold milk or cream
2 Tbs raspberry jam


Preheat oven to 400F and line a baking sheet with a Silpat mat.

In a medium bowl combine the flour, two tablespoons of sugar, baking powder, orange zest, and salt. Rub in the butter with your hands (or cut in with a pastry cutter if you prefer) until it resembles a coarse meal.

In a second bowl whisk the eggs, milk and jam.  Add to the dry ingredients and mix into a shaggy dough.

Knead gently a few times and separate into 3 balls.  Form each into a 6-inch round (about 1-inch thick) and cut into 4 wedges.  Evenly space the wedges on the prepared baking sheet and bake for 15-20 minutes or until a golden brown crust forms.  Serve warm if possible.

Lentil Soup


A bowl of lentil soup is unmatched in its simplicity.   If you can boil water and chop an onion, you can make this delicious one pot meal. It can be dressed up with a dollop of sour cream, chopped parsley, and served with crusty bread-- or simply reheated for a hearty work lunch.

I'd like to extend an invitation to my Chicago readers to join me this Wednesday at the Hideout from 5 pm to 8 pm where I will be cooking soup with my fellow Gapers Block contributing food writers and serving it with Columbia College film professor Dan Rybicky and dietician Bettina Tahsin. As part of this Soup and Bread series, all the food will be donated by the cooks and served free of charge.  A hat will be passed for donations to the Greater Chicago Food Depository to help others keep food on their plates.  Come by to say hello, have a beer and eat some soup while helping out those in need.


While there are many excellent recipes and endless modifications one can make to lentil soup, here is my current favorite.  It has a unique earthiness and bite to it thanks to the cumin and black pepper.

Lentil and Sweet Red Pepper Soup with Cumin and Black Pepper
Adapted from The Zuni Café Cookbook


3 Tbs olive oil
½ C finely chopped red bell pepper
½ tsp whole black peppercorns
¼ tsp cumin seeds
¼ C carrot, finely chopped
¼ C celery, finely chopped
¼ C yellow onion, finely chopped
1 large garlic clove, chopped
1 Turkish bay leaf
1 sprig of Italian parsley, chopped (both
stem and leaves)
1 C lentils, preferably Beluga or French green
4 to 4 ½ C good-quality vegetable stock


In a large saucepan over medium heat, warm 1 Tbs oil. Add the bell pepper and cook, stirring, until it softens, about 5 minutes.

In a mortar, crush the peppercorns and cumin seeds. Add them to the saucepan, and cook the mixture for 1 minute.

Add the remaining oil, carrot, celery, onion, garlic, bay leaf, parsley, and lentils, and 3 C of stock. Stir and
bring it to a simmer. Reduce the heat, and cook the soup uncovered, barely simmering, until the lentils are tender and have absorbed most of the stock, about 15 minutes. Turn off the heat, cover, and let stand for 5 minutes to allow the lentils to soften.

Using an immersion blender, partially puree the soup, so that about half of the lentils are still whole. Add a bit more broth to bring the soup to your desired texture and season to taste.

Clementine Cake


I've been consuming clementines by the crate over the the last few weeks.  I peel and devour at least ten a day.  If I thought they would keep, I'd pile them to the ceiling to make sure I always had more on hand.

While a bowl full of sweet citrus segments suits me just fine for dessert, I wasn't convinced that my dinner party guests would feel the same this past weekend.  I searched my cookbook collection for a suitable citrus dessert, but only came up with sorbets or panna cottas -- not the wintry final course I was hoping for.  At last my search brought me to Nigella Lawson's Clementine Cake recipe and the rave reviews other cooks had given it.

I don't always enjoy citrus desserts, but when the mid-winter bounty of clementines appears next year, I will definitely be turning back to this easy, flourless, five-ingredient recipe.


Clementine Cake

Adapted from Nigella Lawson


5 clementines, rinsed clean
6 eggs
1 C plus 2 TB sugar
2 1/3 C ground almonds
1 heaping tsp baking powder


Place the clementines in a large pot with enough cold water to cover. Bring to a boil and cook for 2 hours. 

When cooked, drain the water and allow the clementines to cool.  Split and remove the seeds and stems.  Throw the skins, pith and fruit into a food processor, and finely chop.  The original recipe isn't clear on whether or not to retain the juices.  I added about 1/3 of the juice to the food processor.

Preheat the oven to 375F

Butter an 8-inch springform pan and line with a circle of parchment paper.

In a medium bowl, beat the eggs and then add the sugar, ground almonds and baking powder.  Mix by hand and then incorporate the clementines.

Pour the mixture into the prepared pan and bake.  Lawson's recipe calls for an hour of baking, but I'd recommend checking it at the 30 or 40 minute mark. The sides of my cake became quite dark.  I was worried that the cake was burning, but it ended up being the citrus and sugar caramelizing.  Nevertheless, I covered the cake with foil after 40 minutes and continued cooking until a tester came out clean from the center.  This took about 15 more minutes. 

Remove from the oven and allow to cool on a rack before removing the springform sides.  The cake can be made a day ahead. Serve at room temperature dusted with powdered sugar.

Miracle Fruit Dinner Party


Several months ago, my friend Joanna posted about the miracle fruit dinner she hosted on her site, My Vegetable Blog.  While the buzz surrounding this fascinating natural plant had somewhat diminished, my interest in trying it out for myself did not. Miracle fruit contains a protein called Miraculin that binds with the taste buds to create a sweet flavor when it comes in contact with acids. The reaction can last two to three hours.


I decided to buy miracle fruit through an online vendor called Miracle UK. I ordered a pouch containing enough freeze-dried miracle fruit powder for 10 and split it with six friends.  The distribution of this pink powder was rather amusing, but once we had all spooned it into our mouths a silence fell over the table as we waited for it to dissolve.

I reached for a lemon wedge and bit into it, bracing myself for disappointment.  I was met with the flavors of a perfect batch of lemonade. It had worked as advertised.


Our dining selection was certainly one of the strangest I have encountered at a dinner party. We all brought odds and ends, many of which were informed by other miracle fruit party descriptions.  Here is a list of what we had on hand:

Swiss chard
Hot sauces
Hot peppers
Pickled onions
Lemon-herb butter
Cocktail sauce
Goat cheese
Cream cheese
Blue cheese
Sour cream
Fried tofu
Sour Patch Kids
Meyer lemon
Granny Smith apple
Key lime

The most striking item to many of us was the tomatillo. It tasted like a complexly flavored apple.  Absolutely delicious. All of the citrus fruits and fresh vegetables responded well.  The vinegars and tequilas were smooth and the buttermilk tasted like cream. The goat cheese and sour cream tasted like frosting, and the strong blue cheese we had been enjoying before dinner tasted very mellow after eating the miracle fruit.

We all agreed that the Guinness did not taste "like a chocolate milkshake" and in fact, we started to suspect that the spicy foods and the alcohols might have actually sped up the dissipation of the miracle fruit reaction.  Those that had foods from these two groups early on seemed to have a much shorter experience.

I certainly hope miracle fruit never finds its way into my foods as a commercial sweetner, but the dinner party sampling was a lot of fun.

Roasted Beet, Arugula and Goat Cheese Crostini

Bruschetta copy 

Winter has been getting me down lately.  I'm craving sunlight and vegetables, and feeling more than a bit lethargic and broke. I think things began a downward turn when I returned to work after the Christmas holiday to find, not a bonus or a holiday greeting, but a note from my employer stating that, since they had decided to close the office on December 26th and January 2nd, all of the employees were being docked two vacation days.  I'm glad to still have a job and all, but jeez, happy holidays huh?  

It's high time to fit a bright dish into the dreary winter landscape, and to be grateful for the good things that have recently come to pass. I have been going a bit beet crazy this winter and I  thought it might be a good time to share one of my favorite seasonal appetizers with you (it also makes a great, light lunch).  This dish can be prepared easily and transported for fast assembly at another location. You'll want to adjust the recipe for the crowd you plan to serve, but this recipe will make about 20 crostini. 
Bruschetta2 copy

Roasted Beet, Arugula and Goat Cheese Crostini


Half a fresh, high-quality baguette
3 large beets
4 ounces goat cheese, or more to taste
2 large handfuls of fresh arugula
olive oil


Preheat the oven to 375F

To roast the beets, rinse the beets and cover with foil.  Roast in the oven at 375F for about an hour, or until easily pierced with a fork.  Let cool slightly and chop off the root and stem ends.  Rub with your hands to remove the skins.  Cut into 1/4 inch slices.  (If you are in a rush, this works just fine with canned beets -- just make sure the only ingredients on the can are beets and salt and that you let them drain thouroughly.)

Increase the oven temperature to 400F

Slice the baguette thinly, between a 1/4 and 1/2 an inch thick.  Arrange the slices on a baking sheet, brush each slice with olive oil, and salt and pepper to taste. Let toast in the 400F oven for about 8 minutes, or until the slices begin to turn a light golden color.  Remove and let cool.

Spread a thin layer of goat cheese on each crostini (or more to taste).   Place a beet slice on each and top with three or four leaves of arugula. 

*If you will transporting the crostini to another location.  Spread each crostini with goat cheese and gently stack in a container.  Line a second container with aluminum foil and place the beet slices inside.  Cover the beet slices with another piece of foil and place your arugula on top.

Semolina Crackers


It's no secret that I love cheese.  While a good, crusty bread is typically my preferred accompaniment, I'll occasionally find myself staring at four dollar cracker boxes wondering if the selection is worth the money.  Making my own always sounded like a good solution, but the various recipes I tried yielded unexciting results -- until recently. 


Nick and I hosted a birthday party for our friend Harold a few weeks ago and I came upon Wild Yeast's excellent cracker recipe just in time for the occasion. Susan's recipe calls for some special equipment like a kitchen scale, pasta roller and a baking stone. I don't own a pasta roller, so I decided to try my luck rolling the dough out with my trusty french rolling pin. I was able to get the sheets of dough very thin without much effort (just make sure your working surface and your pin are generously floured).  I will say that the kitchen scale and the baking stone are important elements of the recipe, however.

I only made one change to the recipe.  In lieu of sesame seeds I made one batch with freshly ground black pepper and one batch with caraway seeds.  I dusted both with coarse Kosher salt before baking. 

I agree with Susan, it will be a long time before I purchase packaged crackers again!

Chocolate Beet Cupcakes with Goat Cheese Frosting


Today marks the fourth year of Pro Bono Baker.  Through a pleasant path of various apartments, relationships, jobs and adventures, I can't think of anything in my adult life that I've stuck with quite as long -- except perhaps college -- and even then I transferred. I've gushed about all the wonderful friends, recipes and stories this site has provided me with on previous birthdays.  This year, I'll leave it at a simple thank you to everyone who visits, both quietly and conversationally.   This wouldn't be nearly as fun without your company.


To celebrate, I made a recipe that I've been mulling over for the past month or two: Chocolate Beet Cupcakes with Goat Cheese Frosting. This treat is seasonal and packed with antioxidants.  Not a bad way to enjoy the new year.

Chocolate Beet Cupcakes


1 C roasted beet puree (about two medium beets)*

.5 C unsalted butter, melted

1 C sugar

.25 C brown sugar

2 eggs

.25 C milk

.75 C flour

.5 C unsweetened cocoa powder

1 tsp baking powder

.25 tsp salt


Preheat oven to 350F

In a large bowl mix together the beet puree, butter, sugars, eggs and milk.  In a medium bowl mix together the remaining ingredients.  Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients and combine until you have a smooth batter.  Fill muffin cups two-thirds full and bake for 25 minutes at 350F, or until a toothpick comes out clean.

*Roasting makes the beets sweeter.  To roast, rinse the beets and cover with foil.  Roast in the oven at 375F for about an hour, or until easily pierced with a fork.  Let cool slightly and chop off the root end.  Rub with your hands to remove the skins.  Roughly chop and puree in a food processor.  It's okay if the puree is slightly chunky.

Makes about 12 cupcakes.  They will stay moist over-night.

Goat Cheese Frosting

Adapted from the gorgeous Harvest Cake at The Kitchn.


5 oz goat cheese, at room temperature

3 oz cream cheese, at room temperature

.5 C powdered sugar

.25 C pure maple syrup


Beat together the cheeses until smooth.  Add the powdered sugar and mix until smooth.  Finally, add the syrup and mix until blended evenly.

Napa Cabbage Salad

Salad2 copy

After years of hoarding cookbooks that I rarely use as anything but reading material, I've surprised myself recently by turning to their recipes more and more.  When my mother asked me to make a salad for our Christmas dinner, this simple dish from Alice Waters caught my eye.  Cabbage and apples go together almost as well as snow on Christmas. Throw in some nuts, cheese, and a creamy dressing and you have a crisp salad that will brighten any winter table. 

Salad1 copy

Napa Cabbage Salad

Adapted from Chez Panisse Fruit

Serves 6


1 small savoy cabbage
1/3 cup walnuts
2 tablespoons cider vinegar
1 tablespoon lemon juice
Salt and pepper
1/3 cup olive oil
2 tablespoons heavy cream
2 Granny Smith apples
1/2 cup crumbled blue cheese


Discard the outer leaves of the cabbage.  Cut in half and remove the core.  Thinly slice the the remaining cabbage.

Toast the walnuts until fragrant over medium heat.  When toasted to your liking, coarsely crush the walnuts with a mortar and pestle.

In a medium bowl, mix the vinegar, lemon juice, some salt, and a generous amount of pepper. Whisk in the olive oil and then the heavy cream. Taste and adjust the acid and salt as desired.

Thinly slice the apples.  Toss the cabbage, apples, walnuts, and blue cheese with the dressing and an extra pinch of salt. Let the salad sit for 5 minutes, taste again, adjust the seasoning as needed, and serve.

Homemade Peppermint Patties


This post is the last in a series of three on edible handmade gifts. You can find the first post on homemade vanilla extract here and the second post on infused vodkas here.

Peppermint patty candies are festive and, believe it or not, incredibly simple to make.  They only call for a few ingredients, making them easy to turn out quickly and cheaply.  In a matter of 30 minutes, you too could have your own tin of these easy chocolate treats that serve as a great last minute gift.


I came upon this recipe over at The Kitchn earlier this month and was surprised how easy it seemed.  I made a batch last week with great success and decided to double it and give these chocolates as gifts. 

I only made one slight change.  Where the recipe calls for refrigerating the filling for 20 minutes, I popped it in the freezer.  I refrigerated the first time around and the filling became gooey and misshapen when I tried to coat it in the melted chocolate.  In my experience, there was no discernible difference in the texture of the filling in the final product using either method.


I had some cellophane bags that I was planning to wrap these in, but I was lucky to see this quick guide to making gift boxes at Heather Bailey's beautiful, color-drenched site.  While the original project is intended for gift cards, they perfectly fit three or four chocolates. 

I didn't have any fancy paper, but I did have some plain heavy card stock sitting around.  I printed ten of these out, cut them with regular scissors, and scored the folds with an empty mechanical pencil. Some pink tissue paper and a decorative stamp completed the packages.


Nick was also making candy this weekend. He had the ingenious idea to make a Twix style candy bar with pistachio butter. He made shortbread cookies, processed pistachios into a butter, and dipped the whole thing in semi-sweet chocolate.  Delicious! 

Handmade gifts might take longer to prepare, but it is a lot more satisfying than selecting a regular store-bought item -- and quite a bit cheaper too.  I hope you have enjoyed this edible handmade gift series.  These new projects are sure to be holiday staples for me for years to come.

Happy holidays everyone! 

Infused Vodka


This post is the second in a series of three on edible handmade gifts.  You can find the first post on homemade vanilla extract here and the third post on homemade peppermint patty candies here.

My friend Harold, who used to guest post on Pro Bono Baker when this site was primarily dedicated to Chicago Bakery Reviews, makes excellent infusions.  He is fervently opposed to the notion that infusions have to sit for weeks on end, and creates most of his in under 30 minutes. 

Harold and I recently shared a warming winter meal at Russian Tea Time here in Chicago where we enjoyed a hearty spread of vareniky, Uzbek stew, and vodka flights.  We selected the coriander, caraway, and horseradish infused vodkas.  The horseradish infusion was so powerful and refreshing, that I decided on the spot that I should make it at home.

On a recent evening, I made three batches of infused vodkas to give as gifts: horseradish, cucumber and ginger.  Infusing your own vodka is simple and quick, and a bottle makes an excellent last minute gift -- you only need an evening and two ingredients.  It is wise to use a vodka that you wouldn't mind drinking without flavor embellishments.  It doesn't have to be fancy though.  I found a good deal on a handle of Stolichnaya to use for my gifts.  I also enjoy using Monopolowa.  I used these Quattro Stagioni 1 liter bottles to make my infusions, but any glass bottle will do. 

Horseradish Infused Vodka


1/2 liter vodka
4 inches horseradish root


Pour half a liter of vodka into your glass bottle.  Using a vegetable peeler, skin the horseradish root.  Quarter the root from top to bottom with a sharp knife.  Now chop the four lengths into half-inch pieces.  Put the horseradish root into the vodka, give it a little shake, and set aside.  Horseradish is pungent.  I only let mine sit for about 3 hours.  It would be wise to check on it frequently in order to achieve your desired strength. Strain the vodka when it is complete.

Cucumber Infused Vodka


1/2 liter vodka
1 small cucumber


Pour half a liter of vodka into your glass bottle.  Rinse the cucumber and chop into quarter inch discs.  Put the cucumber slices into the vodka, give it a gentle shake, and set aside. I let my cucumber vodka infuse over night.  When it has reached your desired strength, strain out the cucumber pieces.

Ginger Infused Vodka


1/2 liter vodka
3 inches ginger root


Pour half a liter of vodka into your glass bottle. Using a spoon, peel the ginger root. Chop into quarter-inch discs.  Put the ginger slices into the vodka, give it a gentle shake, and set aside. I let my ginger vodka infuse over night.  When it has reached your desired strength, strain out the ginger pieces.

Homemade Vanilla Extract


This post is the first in a series of three on edible homemade gifts.  You can find the second post on infused vodkas here and the third post on homemade peppermint patty candies here.

Each year I test my crafting skills with a new handmade gift for the holidays.  These projects have been met with varying degrees of success.  A few years back I labored over handmade soaps that ended up looking tacky and wallowing on my friend’s sinks for months. Another year I knitted little finger puppets that no one seemed especially excited about but me.  Lately I’ve been sticking to handmade gifts of a more edible variety, and I think I may have finally hit my stride.

This post will be the first of three in an edible homemade gift series.  Homemade vanilla extract is easy and fairly inexpensive to make. While it is too late to make your own for this holiday season, the next two gifts in this series will be easy to have ready in a week.

I’m sure you’ve noticed that store bought pure vanilla extract is very expensive.  I go through a lot of the stuff in my kitchen, and the cost was adding up.  I also found that I was avoiding recipes that called for whole vanilla beans because I couldn’t justify the cost unless it was a special occasion.

Around this time last year I about read about the Organic Vanilla Bean Company that sells low cost vanilla beans through Ebay. I ordered 30 beans for under $10.  I highly recommend this economical option.  However you decide to get your vanilla beans, making vanilla extract is a simple process.  I recently read, and recommend, the excellent and highly detailed instructions at The Traveler's Lunchbox.  Read on for my short and sweet method.


Homemade Vanilla Extract


1 liter cheap vodka
10 vanilla beans


Split the vanilla beans down the middle.  (Scrape out some of the seeds if you have an immediate use for them, otherwise just toss them all in.)  Cap the bottle and give it a shake.  Stash the bottle in a dark place, like the back of your pantry or in the basement.  Every time you use a vanilla bean, add the pod to the bottle and give it a gentle shake. The vanilla extract should be ready to use in 6 - 8 weeks, but it will keep much longer.

Mushroom and Wild Rice Pie


I shared in an early winter potluck this past weekend, hosted by Joanna of My Vegetable Blog and The Kitchn.


While I cook often, I don't have the space to entertain as much as I would like. Joanna and Luke have a beautiful apartment, with grown-up features like a dining room table, a Christmas tree, and a lovable hound named Clementine.


Joanna made several dishes, including these subtlety spiced lemongrass soup shots.


Erin and Mia made rosemary tomato focaccia.


Joanna also made these delicious "winter rolls" filled with butternut squash, cilantro, red onion, rice noodles, and pistachios.  Dipped in a spicy cranberry sauce, these rolls were the clear favorite of the day. (Update: Joanna posted her recipe for these excellent rolls over at the Kitchn.)


I was taken with the Mushroom and Farro Pie featured in the November 2008 issue of Gourmet Magazine, and it turns out I wasn't alone. Smitten Kitchen tried the recipe a few weeks ago and confirmed my initial hesitation -- the pie came out a bit bland.  Mild grains cooked in water as a main ingredient didn't seem too exciting to me, so I came up with my own version of this gorgeous dish.


Mushroom and Wild Rice Pie
Inspired by Gourmet Magazine


3/4 C wild rice
3 C vegetable broth
1 Tbl butter
1 Tbl olive oil
4 garlic cloves, minced
2 leeks, finely chopped (1 1/3 C)
1/2 lb cremini mushrooms, sliced
1/2 lb portobella mushrooms, sliced
1/4 C dry white wine
1 Tbl Balsamic vinegar
1 C goat cheese
1 (1-lb) package frozen all-butter puff pastry, thawed
1 egg yolk, beaten with 1 tsp water and a pinch of salt 


Prepare the wild rice as package directs, using broth in place of water.

While wild rice cooks, melt butter with oil in a 12-inch heavy skillet over medium-high heat, then cook garlic and leeks, stirring frequently, 2 to 3 minutes. Add mushrooms, 1 teaspoon salt, and 1/2 teaspoon pepper and cook, stirring occasionally, until just softened, about 5 minutes. Add white wine and Balsamic vinegar and simmer 1 minute. Transfer to a bowl and stir in wild rice, then cool completely.

Stir in goat cheese, and salt and pepper to taste.  (This filling can be made the night before.)

Roll out 2 pieces of puff pastry on a lightly floured surface into an 11-inch squares. Stack squares on a parchment-paper-lined baking sheet with a second sheet of parchment between them, then cover with plastic wrap and chill at least 30 minutes.

Put a large baking sheet on rack in middle of oven and preheat oven to 400°F.

Set aside top square of pastry on parchment. Spread cooled filling evenly over pastry on baking sheet, leaving a 1-inch border. Brush border with some of egg wash, and, using parchment, invert second square on top, lightly pressing to seal border. Brush top with remaining egg wash, then crimp border with a fork and trim with a pizza wheel or sharp knife.

Cut a few small steam vents in top of pie and decoratively score pastry. Slide pie on parchment onto preheated baking sheet in oven and bake until puffed and deep golden brown, about 45 minutes.


I think the pie turned out well.  Though, it still looked more impressive than it tasted.  Next time I think I will reduce the rice by half and double the mushrooms.  Adding some wilted spinach to the filling would be nice as well.

Giving Thanks in Ohio

Barn copy

I spent Thanksgiving in eastern Ohio. Despite being firmly planted in the Great Lakes snowbelt, this area of the country welcomed the holiday with sun and unseasonable warmth.

Redberries copy

We took advantage of the weather by hiking through nearby Cuyahoga Valley National Park. Just minutes from busy towns and factories, the Cuyahoga River cuts through the state creating rocky hills and deep forests.

Plant2 copy

A blanket of snow highlighted the vegetation and made the air head-clearing and crisp. (Which was welcome after a raucous night of Clue and Great Lakes beer.)

Carrots copy

Jerry and Christi, our hosts, made a delicious Thanksgiving feast for us.  I contributed two dishes from other food blogs: The Pioneer Woman's Whiskey Glazed Carrots and Orangette's Cream Braised Brussels Sprouts.

Sprouts copy

Both dishes were delicious, but in hindsight, I should have paired one of these vegetable sides with a less-rich partner.  Though, what would the holidays be without a bit of decadence?

Classic Pumpkin Pie


I don't know about you, but my Thanksgivings don't feel quite complete until I am sinking my teeth into a slice of pumpkin pie.  There are dozens of recipes out there, but this delicately spiced version is an old favorite that is easy to come back to.


Classic Pumpkin Pie


1 pie crust, rolled out and chilled in a pie dish

2/3 C brown sugar

1/2 C white sugar

2 Tbl flour

1/2 tsp cinnamon

1/8 tsp each of: allspice, cloves and ginger

1/2 tsp salt

1 1/2 C canned pumpkin

2 Tbl molasses

1 tsp vanilla

3 large eggs

1 C whipping cream


Place a baking sheet in the oven and preheat to 450F.  Combine sugars, flour, spices and salt in a large bowl.  Add the pumpkin, molasses, vanilla and eggs and incorporate the cream last.

Pour batter into chilled pie crust and bake for ten minutes.

Reduce oven heat to 325F and bake for another 40 to 45 minutes.  The middle should be set and the sides of the pie should puff up a bit.

Allow pie to cool and serve at room temperature or chilled. 

I usually whip any excess cream with a touch of vanilla to serve along with each slice.   This pie can be made up to a day ahead, making it easy for large holiday dinners.


Have a happy Thanksgiving everyone (and happy belated Thanksgiving to my Canadian readers).  Nick, Jerry and I are renting a car and driving out to see some of their family in Ohio.  I'll be sad to miss my family this year, but I'll be seeing them this weekend.  I hope you are all lucky enough to find yourselves in a warm house filled with family, friends, and plenty of food.

Brussels Sprouts with Pecans and Pecorino

Sprouts copy

I first began cooking with Brussels sprouts a few years ago.  Since that time, no holiday meal seems complete without a side of these whimsical, miniature cabbages.  I grew up thinking there was good reason to dislike Brussels sprouts, without ever having the occasion to try them.  As far as I can tell, these childhood rumors were entirely unfounded.  Perhaps this recipe will coax a new sprouts eater out from your Thanksgiving table.

When selecting Brussels sprouts, choose the smallest, firmest, and brightest.  The trick is to cook them just enough.  Overcooking can cause sulfur compounds to be released from the vegetables, creating an unappealing odor.  Cooking the Brussels sprouts until just tender will give them a delicious, nutty flavor.

Brussels Sprouts with Pecans and Pecorino


1/2 C pecan halves, roughly chopped
1/2 Tbl butter
2 Tbl olive oil
1/2 tsp salt
1 and 1/2 pounds Brussels sprouts
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 C Pecorino cheese, freshly grated


Prepare Brussels sprouts by rinsing under cold water.  Cut off the base and remove any leaves that come away during the process. Cut each lengthwise. (For fussy eaters, it may be best to shred the Brussels sprouts in a food processor.) Toss into a large bowl and coat with 1 Tbl of the olive oil.

In a frying pan, heat the pecans over medium heat until fragrant and a few shades darker.  Add 1/2 Tbl of butter and a pinch of salt and toss to coat. Set aside.

In a large frying pan, over low-medium heat, place the Brussels sprouts in a single layer, along with a pinch of salt, cut side down.  Cover and cook for 5 minutes (until slightly browned and tender). If there isn't enough room, work in batches. 

Raise the heat to medium-high and combine the Brussels sprouts, the remaining olive oil, garlic and some salt and pepper.  Toss around until the sprouts caramelize and the garlic is fragrant. Add the pecans and salt and pepper to taste.  Move to a serving dish and toss with the grated cheese.  Serve warm.

Cynar Negroni

On Friday Nick and I played host to my brother and our favorite bartender, Parker.  The weather had taken a dive and we didn't feel much like hiking to the liquor store after work.  We ended up improvising with some items we had on hand and came up with a delightful fall cocktail. 


Ever since a boozy night in Venice with my uncles a few years ago, I have been a big Negroni fan.  The addictive bittersweet taste of Campari led me to seek out similar bitter apéritif liqueurs.  Lately I've been enjoying Cynar, which is made from artichokes and other herbs and plants.  Ordinarily, I simply drink Cynar over ice, but we decided to try it out in place of Campari in a Negroni.  The results were delicious. 

Cynar Negroni


1 oz Cynar
1 oz gin
1 oz sweet vermouth
Dash Angostura bitters
2 orange slices


Pour the first four ingredients over ice in a tall cocktail glass and stir.  Squeeze the juice from one orange slice into the drink and garnish with the other slice.

Homemade Potato Gnocchi

Gnocchi1 copy

Pasta has always been a staple in my pantry.  Tossed with vegetables and garlic, drizzled with olive oil, and topped with any cheese I have on hand -- it makes for an inexpensive and easy weeknight meal.  Nick, however, is not a fan.  As a result, our mutual appreciation for gnocchi has grown over the last few years.  We generally keep a package of the dehydrated stuff and a jar of pesto around for sleepy, uninspired nights.

When we are feeling more ambitious, homemade can't be beat. We've experimented with a variety of recipes that have produced mixed results.  The biggest foe to our gnocchi efforts often seems to be too much moisture.  If the balance isn't correct, the little pillows risk breaking apart in the boiling water or producing gummy forkfuls.

Gnocchi2 copy

How is a cook to avoid this? We've found that recipes that call for baking, not boiling, the potatoes work best.  The other secret to light and silky gnocchi is a potato ricer.  You can get away without one by mashing the potatoes well, but to ensure a smooth dough, a ricer can't be beat.  Elise of Simply Recipes posted a great (baked) potato gnocchi recipe last year that I would recommend trying first (though, be warned, it makes a lot).

To complete the meal, buy a crusty baguette and make this simple, rich sauce:

Gorgonzola Cream Sauce


2 garlic cloves, minced

1 Tbl butter

1 C whipping cream (or 3/4 C milk and 1/4 C cream)

A few ounces Gorgonzola cheese (we use about 3 oz)


Melt the butter in a saucepan over medium heat. Add the garlic and saute 1 minute.

Add cream and cheese and bring to a gentle boil.  Whip 2 minutes, or until cheese is melted and the sauce is slightly thickened. 

Add salt and pepper to taste (careful, the cheese is a bit salty to begin with) and toss with the gnocchi.