Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Olive Garden Lemon Cake

The only time that I eat dessert at lunch is when I go to the Olive Garden.

I LOVE their Lemon Cream Cake and think that it is one of the best desserts around. Close your eyes when it comes to the calories however. I make sure that I only indulge a few times a year.

It’s a great treat for anyone who loves lemon and is so light, you swear that it bounced off a few Cumulus clouds on its way down to your dessert plate.

My compliments to the pastry chef at Olive Garden corporate – it certainly rivals many dessert plates I have enjoyed at 4 star properties in the city.

Here is the recipe I found that is an almost perfect clone.

Betty Crocker White Cake mix

1 1/4 cups Water

1/3 cup Oil

3 Egg Whites

8 ounces Cream Cheese, softened

2 cups Powdered Sugar

4 teaspoons Lemon Juice

1 cup heavy Whipping Cream

1/2 cup all-purpose Flour

1/2 cup Powdered Sugar

1/4 cup cold Butter

1/2 teaspoon Vanilla Extract

Powdered Sugar

Make white cake following directions on box. Pour batter into 10-inch greased cake pan, or springform pan, and bake at 350 degrees F for 40 - 45 minutes. Allow cake to cool completely when it comes out of the oven.

Make lemon cream filling by mixing cream cheese and powdered sugar in a medium bowl with an electric mixer until smooth. Mix in lemon juice.

Whip cream in a large bowl with an electric mixer on high speed until it forms stiff peaks. Combine cream cheese mixture whith whipped cream. Stir by hand until blended.

Make crumb topping by combining flour and powdered sugar in a medium bowl. Add butter and dribble in the vanilla extract. Use your hands to mix cold butter into flour and sugar. Break butter into smaller and smaller pieces as you incorporate it into the dry ingredients. Be sure not to press the mixture together. You want to end up with a very crumbly consistency with pieces no bigger than a pea. (If you have trouble making small crumbs, pop the bowl into your fridge for a few minutes.) Chill this crumb topping until you are ready to use it.

When the cake is cool, slice it in half through the middle and remove the top. Spread all but 1/2 cup of the lemon cream mixture onto the bottom half of the cake, then carefully replace the top half of the cake.

Spread the remaining 1/2 cup of cream filling over the top and sides of the cake. Sprinkle the crumb topping on top of the cake and press it onto the sides all the way around the cake.

Now chill the cake for at least 3 hours before your serve it. When you are ready to dig in, slice cake into 12 slices. Serve each slice topped with powdered sugar tapped through a strainer.

Bon Appetit!

Rich Stock Turkey Noodle Soup

I love a great turkey noodle soup especially when the head of winter kicks us with a below zero day like today.

The key to a great stock is to cook the bones which really brings out the flavor of the turkey. You can make the stock in the same pan that you cooked the turkey in and do not have to clean it before you do.

If you make extra stock, just put it in the freezer where it will keep for up to 3 months.

Rich Stock Turkey Noodle Soup:

Leftover meat and bones from a cooked turkey

1 medium-to-large Onion, peeled and quartered

2 or 3 medium Carrots, peeled and cut into chunks

2 or 3 medium Celery Stalks, cut into chunks

6 Ounces Uncooked Egg Noodles

Leftover turkey – light and dark mixed

Heat oven to 450 degrees. Place bones and meat in a large roasting pan, and place in the oven. Roast, stirring occasionally, for about 1 hour. Add vegetables, and roast for about 30 minutes more, stirring a few times.

Remove from oven and place roasting pan on the top of the stove over 2 burners. Turn heat to high, and barely cover the bones with water, about 8 to 10 cups. When water boils, turn heat down so that the liquid simmers. Cook, stirring occasionally and scraping bottom of pan to loosen any bits of meat, for about 30 minutes more. Cool, then strain and skim off excess fat.

Bring stock back to a boil and add 6 ounces uncooked egg noodles. Cook 10 minutes. Add turkey, cook for 2 minutes and serve with warm, crusty Italian bread.

Bon Appetit!

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Wontons...An After Christmas Tradition

While most people are baking Christmas cookies during the holidays, I am making wontons. Wontons have been a part of our Christmas tradition since my son Tommy was small.

I forget how easy they are to make. I made the stuffing and the sauce ahead of time so it was a snap putting them together and frying them up. It takes less than a half hour plus frying time.

Forget about the pre-made or frozen wontons. No reason to do that when are so easy to make from scratch and so good fresh.

This is my son Tommy’s favorite recipe and comes from the Leeann Chinn cookbook.

Fried Wontons

½ pound fresh raw shrimp – chopped fine

¼ pound ground pork

6 canned water chestnuts

¼ cup chopped green onions

1 teaspoon cornstarch

1 teaspoon salt

1/8 teaspoon sesame oil

Dash of white pepper

1 pound wonton skins

1 egg, slightly beaten

Peanut Oil

Mix shrimp, pork, water chestnuts, green onions, cornstarch, salt, sesame oil and white pepper.

Place ½ teaspoon of mix in wonton wrapper. Fold over and seal with egg. Pinch left corner to right corner to seal.Heat oil to 350 degrees. Fry 8-10 minutes or until they are brown, turning 2-3 times.Drain on paper towel and serve with hot mustard or sweet and sour plum sauce (recipe below).Makes about 30 appetizers.

Sweet and Sour Plum Dipping Sauce:

1 can (20 oz.) crushed Pineapple

1 cup Sugar

1 cup Water

1 cup Vinegar

1 Tbsp. Dark Soy Sauce

2 Tbsp. Cornstarch

2 Tbsp. Cold Water

1 cup Plum Jam

Heat pineapple with syrup, sugar, water, vinegar and soy sauce to boiling. Mix cornstarch and 2 Tbsp. water; stir into pineapple mixture. Heat to boil, stirring constantly. Cool to room temperature and add plum jam. Cover and refrigerate. Serve with Wontons. Makes: 5 2/3 cups.

I also love to use Wonton wrappers to create many exciting and beautiful dishes.Here are a few recipes you can use to make out of the ordinary appetizers and some celebrated desserts.

Mini Wonton Quiches

4 eggs

1 ounce finely chopped cooked ham

2 tablespoons chopped green onions with tops

2 tablespoons chopped sweet red bell pepper

1 tablespoon flour

cooking spray

24 3 1/4 x 3 inch wonton wrappers

sweet and sour sauce, optional

hot mustard, optional

In a bowl, mix eggs, ham, onions, pepper and flour. Coat 24 miniature muffin cups with spray. Press 1 wrapper into each cup, allowing ends to extend above edges of cup. Spoon about 1/2 tablespoon mixture into each wrapper-lined cups. Bake in preheated 350ºF oven until knife comes out clean, about 12 - 15 minutes.

Serve with sweet & sour sauce and/or hot mustard sauce.

Mini Tacos Recipe

24 wonton wrappers

1 lb hamburger

1 package taco seasoning

1/2 cup salsa or picante sauce

3 tablespoons salsa

Shredded Lettuce

1 cup shredded cheese (cheddar is good, but a mexican blend would be good too)

sour cream (optional)

olives (optional)

guacamole (optional)

Brown hamburger and drain fat.

Stir in taco mix and 1/2 cup salsa/picante sauce and simmer about 3 minutes.

Press wonton wrappers into mini muffin cups.

Spoon beef mixture into cups and top with the 3 TBSP of salsa and cheese.

Bake in preheated 425F oven for 8 minutes until the wontons are nicely browned.

Serve with shredded lettuce salsa, sour cream, olives and Guacamole .

Berry Napoleons With Sugared Wonton Wrappers

Cooking spray

12 wonton wrappers

2 tablespoons sugar

1 cup whipped topping or whipped cream (or nondairy topping)

1 cup raspberries, blackberries or sliced strawberries, or any berry combination

1 tablespoon confectioners' sugar

Mint to garnish, if desired


Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Coat a large baking sheet with cooking spray.

Arrange wonton wrappers on prepared baking sheet and spray the surface with cooking spray. Sprinkle sugar over wontons. Bake 5 minutes, until golden brown. Remove wontons from oven and arrange 4 on a serving platter (or individual dessert dishes). Top each wonton with 2 tablespoons whipped topping and then 2 tablespoons berries. Top with second wonton wrapper. Repeat layers (whipped topping, berries, wonton wrapper). Sift confectioners' sugar over top layer. Serve immediately.

And…here are some other fun things to do using Wonton wrappers:

Spoon a teaspoon of Nutella or Peanut Butter into the wonton wrapper and fold one side over the other. Seal the edges with egg white. Put a half an inch of canola oil in a saute pan and heat to medium-high heat. When the "dumplings" are brown, turn them over. It only takes a couple minutes to puff and brown on each side. Drain on paper towels and sprinkle with powdered sugar.

Cut wrappers diagonally, lay them on a cookie sheet, spray with oil, sprinkle with salt and fresh ground red pepper, and bake at 400 degrees for about 7 minutes.

-On Oven Fry Wonton Wrappers, drizzle with Carmel Sauce and Chocolate, then added Chopped Salted Nuts and a huge scoop of your favorite ice cream.

-Add cinnamon sugar or powdered sugar to fried wontons for dessert toppers.

-They are the most delicious crackers for dips, soft cheeses or just snacking by themselves.

Bon Appetit and Happy Almost New Years!

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Grits.. A Perfect Dish To Add To A Traditional Southern Christmas Breakfast

One of my favorite meals is breakfast on Christmas morning. It is definitely not a count your calories meal as Eggs Benedict is the tradition in our house and has been for years.

My ex-husband, who has always been a great Southern cook, threw a new mix into our holiday tradition by making cheese grits this year to serve with the Eggs Benedict.

The texture of these cheese grits is just like a bread pudding and the flavor was incredible.

The recipe below came from an old Oklahoma Gas cookbook and it is now a new tradition for our family Christmas breakfast.

Grits are definitely not just a southern thing anymore!

Cheese Grits Soufflé

1 ½ Cups Grits

6 Cups Boiling Water

2 tsp. Seasoned Salt

1 tsp. Onion Salt

1 tsp. Garlic Salt

¾ Tsp. Worcestershire

1 stick (1/2 C) Butter

3 Eggs

16 Ounces Colby

Paprika to taste

Cook the grits in boiling water for 5 minutes according to directions on the package. Stir in onion salt, season salt, garlic salt, Worcestershire sauce and butter. Stir 2-3 Tablespoons of the hot grits into the eggs; stir eggs into the grits. Add Colby cheese and cook until cheese melts, stirring constantly. Pour into greased 2 QUART Soufflé dish. Sprinkle with a generous amount of paprika. Cover with foil and chill overnight.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Bake for 1 ½ hours. Cook covered.

Yield: 12 -16 servings

Bon Appetit and Merry Christmas!

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

I Could Take Christmas...

a long way into January!

Love Christmas!

Monday, December 21, 2009

Holiday Cheer - Tequila Makes For A Very Merry Christmas!

My friend Cesar Mascorro Pérez who is Manager of New Markets for Tequilas del Señor and I wrote this post about celebrating Christmas in Mexico with his favorite drink (and mine too)…Tequila.

I heard a jingle the other day about Tequila that made me laugh:

It can make you crazy.
It can calm you down.
It can make you hallucinate
or have a colorful night on the town.

Been there – done that! It made me think of my first Tequila experience at age 20. I was living in Guadalajara at the time and never had a drink in my life. About 10 shots later I was sick for a week and swore off the stuff FOREVER… until we did it all over again the next weekend. Watch Tequila Confessions, a really funny tribute to your highest tequila experience” at http://www.tequilaconfessions.com./

I have come a long way in developing both my knowledge and taste for Tequila. Did I have to drink a lot of tequila to get here? Depends on what you call a lot but I do remember more than one colorful nights on the town.

Don’t ask a bartender these days for his finest tequila. You will pay upward of $110 a shot for Cuervo Colleccion, Porfidio Barrique and many other premium brands. And pay particular attention to this warning: Do not carry your cash card with you when you are drinking a lot of tequila. You could end up flying to Vegas only to wake up the next morning at Mandalay Bay and wonder how you got there. Sound familiar? We’ve all had tequila moments that have scripted Tequila Confessions.

In the US, most people are introduced to bad tequila and never really make the transition to 100 percent blue agave tequila. Honestly, they do not know what they are missing. There is a huge difference between the tequila you bought last week at $11.00 a bottle to mix in your Margaritas and 100 percent blue agave. When you finally come around to drinking “good” tequila straight, it is a true expression of your passion for tequila. Yes - you have arrived!

Getting into the tequila culture takes a little bit of time and a whole lot of study but there is nothing better than 100 percent blue agave tequila. It is so smooth - like sipping a great brandy or cognac. The key, as in anything, is in the aging process.

I will admit that I am a bit of a Tequila snob now. Most cheap tequilas bear little similarity to tequila at its finest. Cheap tequila achieves its function when the main goal is intoxication, but puts forward only a whisper of tequila’s real excellence.

The incredible growth in the tequila industry has generated over three hundred new brands in the last few years alone and just like Tequila, celebrating Christmas is a tradition deeply rooted within the Mexican culture.

Mexicans do love their “Posadas”; festivities traditionally held in December with friends, family or colleagues. At a Posada, you will not only find great food but also a variety of Tequilas and other spirits. And like every Christmas party, some people get into the “spirit” more than others. Hey – it’s part of the tradition that you will do only once if you’re smart.
                                     Photo Source: Cesar Mascorro Pérez

Cesar Mascorro Pérez and I have been friends for a long time. In the process of doing a U.S marketing plan for another brand of tequila, I learned a whole lot about the spirit myself. The thing that I love about Cesar is that he knows tequila so well. You can put a flight of tequila in front of him and he can name every brand. He will start out with something like this “has light floral notes that are followed up with characters of cinnamon, touches of black pepper, balanced with minute inklings of sweet vanilla and ends with a smooth finish that introduces notes of lime.” Did you every wish that your own palate was so sophisticated?
Cesar’s posada at Tequilas del Señor was held on December 5th in the company of owner Don Manuel Garcia, his family and all the staff and contributors to this great tequila producer. The traditional posada was celebrated once again, as it has been for more than 60 years with piñatas, a taco buffet and, of course, those great tequila cocktails which I have recipes for in my next post.

Most Mexicans are deeply devout and are attached to their religious traditions at Christmas. I love the fact that the Tequila del Senor staff acted out a Nativity play of the birth of Jesus, better known as a “pastorela” at their party.

Preparing for yet another Posada this season, Cesar offers some of the delicious items on their Christmas menu.

Also, Bernardo Torres, professional tequila sommelier at Tequilas del Senor, makes the recommendations on what Tequila you should enjoy with each dish. P.S. And in my next life I am coming back as a professional tequila sommelier! That sounds like a dream job to me.


1 pound. Shrimp cooked and peeled

8 ounces Cream cheese

Chipotle chile to taste

Salt to taste

Apricot Jam


Blend the chipotle and shrimp separately, so that when mixing the ingredients they become a spreadable paté for the crackers. Once you have already mixed the shrimp, cream cheese, chipotle and salt serve the pate on crackers with the apricot jam as a topping.

Tequila Recommendation: In a good combination of spicy and sweet with this appetizer, Bernardo recommends a glass of Reserva del Senor Reposado. Yes- straight up to be enjoyed.

I love this recipe and fix it whenever I have company around the holidays.


2 sticks butter

2 tbsp. mustard

8 oz. Tequila Reserva del Señor Reposado

1 tbsp. crushed whole peppercorns

6 cloves garlic, minced

2 green apples

Salt to taste

Marinate the turkey overnight with soft or melted butter, garlic, pepper, salt, mustard, cover it well inside and out. Inject with the Reserva del Señor Reposado tequila in the breast, legs and thighs. The turkey should then be stuffed and whole apples which are placed in the throat and in the rear cavity. The openings are sewn shut with needle and thread, so that the stuffing does not come out. Place the turkey in a plastic oven bag, breast side down. One hour before it is done turn the turkey over with the breast side up to brown evenly.
Note: Cook according to the directions on your turkey. Also, see the new stuffing recipe that I posted from Anthony’s grandfather Fritz. This would be the perfect pairing for this dish.

Tequila Recommendation: Again, the Reserva del Señor Reposado, will provide aromas of almonds, vanilla, hazelnut, plums and an unforgettable aroma of the agave syrup which will be a perfect pairing for this main dish. P.S. Remember this is sipping tequila and if you do anything other than sip, you may be cooked before the dessert.


2/3 cup Lime Juice (6 to 8 medium limes)

½ cup 100% Agave Tequila

3 large Garlic Cloves, minced or crushed

2 tablespoons chopped fresh Cilantro

2 tablespoons Vegetable Oil

1 teaspoon Chili Powder

1teaspoon freshly ground Black Pepper

1 teaspoon Kosher Salt

1 ½ pounds Flank Steak

4 Bell Peppers, each cut into 12 wedges

1 large Sweet Onion, cut into 8 wedges

6 (6-inch) Flour Tortillas


chopped Avocados

Sour Cream

Stir together the first 8 ingredients in a medium bowl to make the marinade. Combine the steak and 3/4 cup of the marinade in a large zip-top bag. Place the peppers and onion in another large zip-top bag, and pour in the remaining marinade. Seal the bags and marinate in the refrigerator for 2 to 4 hours, turning occasionally. Note: Since I prefer my vegetables somewhat crunchy, I do not marinate them with the meat but grill them fresh. It’s a matter of preference.

Coat a grill rack or grill pan with vegetable cooking spray. Remove the steak and vegetables from the bags and discard the marinade. Grill the steak 8 minutes per side and the vegetables 8 to 10 minutes, turning them every 2 to 3 minutes. Remove the steak and vegetables from the grill. Keep the vegetables warm and let the steak sit for 10 minutes before slicing.

Wrap the tortillas in foil and place on the grill or a grill pan to warm for a few minutes. Cut the steak on an angle, against the grain, into thin slices. Fill the tortillas with peppers, onion, and steak. Top with salsa, diced avocado, and sour cream.


This is one of my favorite recipes at any time of year. Finding a fish market, like the Daily Grind in Lake Bluff, is the key to enjoying wonderful fish all year round.The two keys to making this recipe work are using a fruity salsa, and of course the Aioli. Aïoli sums up what it means to be French (or in this case Mexican). Note: I crave the fish tacos at the Narrows in Navarre, MN. Possibly the best ever but you can duplicate an almost perfect récipe match below:


3 TBS Mayonnaise

1 Garlic Clove minced

1-2 TBS Tequila

Juice from 1/2 fresh Lime (squeezed)

fresh ground Black Pepper

Mix all ingredients together in a small bowl until smooth.


6 corn or flour Tortillas

2 - 4oz Salmon or Mahi Mahi

1 cup shredded White Cheddar

2 cups shredded Cabbage (green, red or both)

1 Roma Tomato – small dice

Pineapple Salsa (I used chopped fresh pineapple, onion, red pepper, cilantro, jalapeno and whatever else I have that I need to use up.)

Cook the fish filets on your indoor grill

With all of your ingredients ready, layer in this order:








I find this recommendation interesting and will try it when I cook for my son this next week

Chocolate Chip Ice Cream

Herencia de Plata Anejo Tequila

To each three scoops of ice cream add a shot glass of tequila to serve as a sorbet. This can be enjoyed with a straw or a spoon.

Tequila Recommendation: Bernardo says the best warm up for this dessert would be a delicious "White Mexican”, prepared with a dose of the Reserva del Señor Almendrado on the rocks along with two doses of evaporated milk. P.S. A dose is any measurement you want it to be. Love that!


If you are in Chicago, the place to sip outstanding tequilas is at the Salud Tequila Lounge at 1471 N. Milwaukee Ave. I met the Salud owners a few years back at the Las Vegas Tequila Fest. With over 80 tequilas in-house (I am totally impressed with the fact that they have stocked over 80 tequilas and all of them are 100% agave), Salud offers an experience without comparison anywhere else in Chicago.

                                                                         Photo Source: Salud Tequila Lounge
Each month, Salud features a different tequila at a special dinner held in their back room. A representative from that distillery comes in to discuss the particulars of the tequila and the tequila-making process. It is fascinating to hear the history and traditions of each distillery and you can enjoy the unique flavors that are made with every tequila.

Chef Jose Gonzalez focus is that the food blends with the tastes of the 100% agave tequilas that they serve.

Look for all of the great tequilas from Tequilas del Senor at: http://www.tequilasdelsenor.com.mx

Tequila Reposado 100% agave HERENCIA DE PLATA was a Double Gold Medal winner at the San Francisco World Spirit Competition in 2008. Savor that thought as it is soon to be available in the US.

No matter what your plan is to celebrate the holidays, make sure that you include a little Tequila – 100 percent blue agave that is- in your celebration.

Feliz Navidad and Buen apetito!

Festive Tequila Cocktails

Suzi’s Margaritas

I don’t use anything but the basics when I make a Margarita – tequila, triple sec, margarita mix and Roses Lime. I always use good tequila and do not mix in a blender. Put the ingredients in a cocktail shaker and pour. I serve margaritas up so the tequila doesn’t get watered down and is in its purest form. For this reason, I keep my tequila, triple sec, margarita mix and Roses Lime all in the refrigerator.

½ Cup 100% Agave Tequila - Reposado

½ Cup Jose Cuervo Tequila Mix

½ Cup Triple Sec

¼ Cup Roses Lime Juice

Serve in a cold glass (I keep mine in the freezer) with a salted rim.

Bloody Maria:
Note: Try the recipe for Uncle Dan’s Green Beans (in a previous post December 7th) as they are great in a Bloody, especially those made with 100% Agave Tequila.
2 oz 100 % Agave Tequila

1 tsp Horseradish

3 dashes Tabasco Sauce

3 dashes Worcestershire Sauce

dash of Lime Juice

3 dashes Celery Salt

3 dashes Pepper

Tomato Juice or Clamato Juice

Dash of Salsa

1 tsp Dijon Mustard (optional)

Pina Tequila Twister:

2 tablespoons Cinnamon

2 tablespoons Granulated Sugar

Lime wedge for rimming the glass

3 parts Silver 100 % Agave Tequila

3 parts Pineapple Juice

1 part Licor 43

1 part Freshly Squeezed Lime Juice

Dash Cinnamon Syrup

Combine cinnamon and sugar in a shallow dish. Rim a glass with lime wedge, then dip in cinnamon-sugar mixture. In a cocktail shaker, shake remaining ingredients and pour into the sugar-rimmed glasses over ice.

Manhattan Mexicano:

See my previous post on Navan, Navan is a vanilla-infused Cognac made by Grand Marnier.

4 parts 100% Agave Tequila Anejo

1 part Navan

Dash Sweet Vermouth

Dash Bitters

Combine all ingredients in a shaker filled with ice. Pour straight up into chilled glasses.

These three drinks below are classic tequila cocktails for the holiday season. I love the Agave Kiss instead of dessert. Mistletoe Madness, named after an annual party my son throws every year is really good and very festive with the champagne. The Pomegranate Margarita is a nice variation on the classic cocktail.

Agave Kiss:

2 oz 100 % Agave Anjeo Tequila

1 oz White Creme de Cacao

1 oz double cream

1/2 oz Chambord

White chocolate flakes for rimming

Fresh raspberries for garnish

In a cocktail shaker with ice, add tequila, white crème de cacao, double cream and Chambord. Shake and pour into a chilled glass rimmed with white chocolate. Add a spear of fresh raspberries.

Mistletoe Madness:

1 oz 100% Agave Tequila

1/2 oz Triple Sec

1/2 oz Fresh Pomegranate Juice

Mumm Champagne

Pomegranate seeds for garnish

Pour the tequila, triple sec and pomegranate juice in a chilled Champagne flute. Fill with Champagne and garnish with pomegranate seeds.

Pomegranate Margarita:

2 oz 100% Agave Tequila - Reposado

1/2 oz simple syrup

Fresh Pomegranate Seeds

1 oz Fresh Passion Fruit Juice

Place pomegranate in the base of a cocktail shaker. Add all other ingredients and shake with ice.

Christmas Gift Ideas For The Last Minute Shopper

For all of you last minute shoppers, here are some Christmas ideas for the chef in your family that puts the bliss factor off the charts.

I have a lot of tequila aficionado friends and this book is the perfect combination of interesting information, tequila history and lore, distillery information, great recipes, pretty much anything else you ever wanted to know about Tequila.

I love this book by photographer Bilyana Dimitrova. Readers take a tour of eight extraordinary homes that express the personalities of their free-spirited owners - each with a personal flair of individuality.

I like Ellie Krieger’s philosophy on healthy eating and this cookbook makes eating healthy so easy. Most of the recipes are made more or less from scratch with really good, fresh ingredients.

This is another beautiful book by National Geographic. You'll find fabulous foods, dishes, markets, and restaurants worth traveling to. The best of the best from all over the globe are featured in this book and every country tells an extraordinary story of its culture and cooking.

P.S. For the photographers in your life, you can also purchase photo books by famous National Geographic photographers Sam Abell, Steve McCurry, Thomas Abercrombie, Jodi Cobb, and my favorite James Stanfield.

I buy all of my books on line from Amazon. I have bought a ton of used books and ALL of them have been in perfect condition.

Make your cookbook stunning by uploading recipes and photos to create a wonderful gift for anyone you know who likes to cook or loves your cooking.

At cookingclasses.surlatable.com, Sur La Table offers hands on classes for $69. Located at 52-54 East Walton Street in Chicago.

White Flatbread Pizza

This delicious white flatbread pizza combination is hard to beat. Great as an appetizer or pair with a salad and you have a really good lunch.

You can make homemade flatbread crust but sometimes when you are in a hurry, you may want to use the refrigerated pizza crust or buy flatbreads at your grocery store.

I made it for lunch today and you can see that I used the “add on” ingredients sparingly. You can pile them on if you like. It’s a matter of personal preference.

Chicken, Spinach and Bacon Flatbread

Flatbread Pizza Dough (use 1 can (13.8 oz) refrigerated thin pizza crust or purchase Flatbreads

Grilled or Rotisserie chicken – sliced thin

Spinach cut into teeny, tiny pieces,

Applewood smoked bacon – chopped very small Note: Pre-cook it most of the way through in the microwave to get rid of the grease.

Green Onions



20 minutes before you want to bake the pizza preheat your oven and your baking sheet. Crank up your oven to its highest setting (500F) and insert an inverted baking sheet.

Remove the hot baking sheet from the oven and sprinkle with cornmeal. Set your flatbread or flatbread dough on top. Work quickly and carefully. Brush surface with olive oil and layer your ingredients on top.

Bake in oven for 7-10 minutes until top and bottom of flatbread is golden brown. I have also cooked this at 450F for about 13 minutes.

I really keep my eye on it when it is in the oven as the flatbread is so thin it cooks quickly.

Bon Appetit!

Simple Things to Do for Your Holiday Parties

Here are some mini appetizers & h'orderves that I made for my neighbors Christmas party last night. People loved that fact that I made them miniature and portion controlled them right from the get go. That appetizer recipe you were going to do? Cut the size in half.

I also made some festive drinks – a great eggnog – and some fun wine glasses tied with beautiful holiday ribbons. A few easy and inexpensive things to make your holiday party fun and not so Ho Hum!

The desserts were brought my friend Tom and purchased at our favorite place - Gerhard's Elegant European Desserts in Lake Forest.

Bon Appetit!

One Batch Of Dough = 4 Great Holiday Cookies

Here are more of my friend Gina’s Christmas Cookies. Thanks Gina! Photo/Recipe Source: Gina

Lightened Up Holiday Cookie Dough:

1 c. butter, softened

1-1/2 c. sugar

1-1/2 c. brown sugar

3 eggs

1/3 c. canola oil

1-1/2 tsp. vanilla

4 c. flour

1 tsp. salt

1/2 tsp. baking soda

In a large bowl, cream butter and sugars until light and fluffy. Beat in the eggs, oil and vanilla. Combine flour, salt and baking soda. Add to the butter mixture and beat until well blended.

Divide dough into 4 equal portions * about 1-1/4 c. each*

Wrap in plastic wrap and chill for at least one hour or you can freeze for up to 3 months.

For Cut Out Cookies, use one portion of dough ( 1-1/4 c.) Roll out on a lightly floured surface. Cut with cookie cutters and place on ungreased cookie sheets. Bake for 6-7 minutes or until lightly browned underneath. Decorate as desired. We sprinkled ours with sugar before baking

Chocolate Swirled Bars:
Makes 36

1 portion Holiday Cookie Dough

1 c. dark chocolate chips

1/4 c. vanilla chips, melted

Press dough into the bottom of a 13 x 9 pan. ( will be thin) Bake at 350 for 11-13 minutes or until lightly browned. Sprinkle with chocolate chips and let stand for a few minutes. Spread chips over bars. Drop melted vanilla chips onto spread chocolate. Swirl with a knife. Let set until chocolate hardens before cutting into bars.

Drizzled Cherry Cup Cookies:
Makes 22

1 portion Holiday Cookie Dough ( 1-1/4 c.)

22 maraschino cherries, well drained

2 squares ( 1 oz each) semisweet chocolate, melted

Roll dough into 1" balls and press into the bottom and up sides of mini muffin tins coated with cooking spray. Place a cherry in the center of each. Bake at 350 for 12-14 minutes. Cool in pan for 5 minutes before removing to a wire rack to cool completely. Drizzle cooled cookies with melted chocolate

Wreath Cookies:

1 portion Holiday Cookie Dough ( 1-1/4 c.)

2 T. flour

4-5 drops green food coloring

2 T. water

2 T. M&M miniature baking bits

2 T. vanilla frosting

Place cookie dough in a mixing bowl. Add 2 T. flour and beat. Add food coloring and mix until combined.Shape 1 tsp. dough into a 4" rope. Repeat with another piece. Place two ropes side by side. Press together lightly and twist. Shape into a circle and press ends together to seal. Place on ungreased baking sheets and bake at 350 for 7-8 minutes or until set. Cool for 2 minutes before removing to a wire rack to cool completely. Attach baking bits onto cooled wreaths with a bit of frosting.

Breakfast…Hashbrowns To Write Home About!

Chef and food critic James Beard named Walker Brothers Original Pancake House as one of the top ten "best" in America. The restaurant was recognized by USA Today as one of the "Top Ten Pancake Restaurants in the Nation. Zagat recognized them as a Chicago's "best breakfast - bar none" and the "North and Northwest Suburban Family Favorite." Chicago magazine presented them with the Critic's Choice Award for the "best breakfast" around.

At 620 Central Ave. in Highland Park (there are other locations as well),the fact that there is always a line out the door and this place was mentioned in Mean Girls says a lot about the quality of their food.

BEST HASHBROWNS around – bar none!

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Lettuce Entertain You

About a week ago, I got an email from someone at Lettuce Entertain You. Ask anyone about the restaurant business in Chicago and many people will tell you that Lettuce Entertain You defines it.

Back in 1971, Richard Melman met Jerry Orzoff and after a run-away R.J. Grunts, the rest is history. Lettuce Entertain You is the genius behind one of the most successful and profitable restaurant ventures in culinary history delivering humor and enjoyment while creating high quality, successful restaurants at an affordable price. Let’s face it, nothing is more important in this struggling economy than good food at an affordable price. That is one of the many reasons that Lettuce Entertain You continues to thrive and I could name at least a dozen more.

When I looked over the list of current properties in their collection, I realized that I have not only eaten at most of them but a lot of LEYE restaurants have been around a very long time.

I often thought that I would love to work for Mr. Melman but our paths never crossed. I’ve heard from so many LEYE employees that he places enormous value on the people who work for him and feels tremendous responsibility for their success. So much for all the talk that the boss does not care about his employees anymore. Is this a dream boss or what?

You keep thinking that Melman is going to run out of themes – all of them fun and ingenious! Let’s face it - anyone who can open over 130 restaurants with 70 concepts has my vote for Restaurateur of the Century.

Here is my read on the Lettuce Entertain You Properties that I know and love to eat at:

Shaw's Crab House

I will always bow down to this Chicago classic at 21 East Hubbard. This place is, without a doubt, my ALL TIME FAVORITE restaurant in Chicago. The charred Sashimi Tuna, baked Clams Casino, Iceberg Wedge Salad, and Sautéed Sea Scallops…to KILL FOR! Sorry, I only use that expression when the food is better than exceptional. When the soft shell crab is in season, this is the place to come. Time and time again, this restaurant shows everyone what great food and dining is all about. I love the atmosphere in the Oyster Bar and it’s the only place I’ll eat. My most memorable lunches have been here at the big round table in its own little room in the back of the bar. Forever a celebrity sighting if that is what you are in to. Me? I’m going to get my fix again next week and after looking at the new website, I’m certain that I’ll get into the Bloody Mary’s and Key Lime Pie. Do they pair well? Will let you know.

Ben Pao

Having done a previous post on this restaurant, most of you know that it is one of my favorite Chinese restaurants in Chicago. At 52 West Illinois Street, the Sesame Chicken and eggrolls, year in and year out, are some of the best anywhere. I like the bundles – soup, spring roll and entrée for $10.95. No matter how many people I take to this spot, everyone gives it high marks. I always eat at one of the tables in the bar. I love the environment and the floor to ceiling windows makes it the perfect place to photograph food…or get a good look at your blind date. This was actually going on at the table next to me last week. P.S. She liked him!

Big Bowl

Authentic Chinese and Thai at 6 E Cedar and 60 E Ohio. To die for Kung Po Chicken - I mean to die for and the coriander leaves is the surprise ingredient. I also love the appetizers and often go for the pot stickers or dumplings. The Pad Thai is exceptional and the sichuan green beans which are wrinkled and sweet with a fiery chili sauce were devoured in an instant the last time we ate there. Passion for the high tables in the bar…have I said that before? Also, I swear that all the fortunes in my cookies are lined up in my favor. Who stuffs them anyway? My last one read: You are headed for a promotion. I like the sound of that!

Brasserie JO

Everyday French at 59 W. Hubbard Street. Another restaurant with a long history, I am mad about the steamed Mussels, Chicken Liver Mousse and Country Pate…oh and don’t forget the Pommes Frites…possibly my favorite. Loved all the little places in Paris and put Brasserie’s on the same level of French. Winner of the 1996 James Beard Award for Best New Restaurant of the Year and this restaurant keeps getting better with the years – just like the wine…Oh, love that too!

Cafe Ba-Ba-Reeba!

at 2024 N Halstead, this Spanish mainstay has tapas and paella and I can never select my favorite – I love them all! Chef Gabino Sotelino keeps the menu interesting with a wide variety of dishes to choose from. They are having a New Years Day Pajama Brunch – yes, wear your PJ’s and you’ll receive a gift certificate equal to the price of a meal. This place is so much fun that my base of Ba-Ba-Reeba fans just keeps getting bigger.


the high point of Chef-Proprietor Jean Joho's restaurant collections, everything from this Five Diamond is superb. The menu changes seasonally and the selection of Five Chocolates for dessert is the pinnacle. At 440 S LaSalle on the 40th floor, this place is definitely the jewel in the Lettuce Entertain You crown.


at Water Tower - 835 N Michigan, I can pick from just about any ethnic group and find a place to eat here. The throngs of Michigan Avenue shoppers love this location and it is always busy. Recognized as a place for good food at an affordable price.

Frankie's 5th Floor Pizzeria/ Frankie's Scaloppine

at 900 N Michigan. The Sardinian style pizzas with ever-so-thin crusts are made with grana padano cheese and no sauce – which I love- and are served with olive oil. The Parmesan and Anchovy (and I don’t even like anchovy) is so yummy. They serve up Scaloppine, classic pastas, seasonal fish, and fresh salads. Great for a quick lunch while you take on Bloomies with your mama.

Hub 51

at 51 W. Hubbard - this is Melmans sons version of great food and for the most part, they hit the mark. Can taste the Knife and Fork BLT and Crispy Baja Fish Sandwich weeks after the fact. Impressive sushi and hand cut fries. A fun place to bring your new boss or your BFF.


It seems like Joe’s has been around forever doesn’t it? At 60 East Grand it has some of the best seafood in Chicago. The Grouper and Mahi-Mahi are still standouts on the menu. A really fun place to go with a big crowd. My friend Don has a weakness for the bartender…P.S. SHE IS NOT ON THE MENU!

Maggiano's Little Italy

at 516 N Clark. Go for the Margherita Flatbread with grape tomatoes, four-cheese blend, fresh mozzarella & basil. People keep telling me about their pastas but I am a sucker for the Flatbread Pizza. Oh, and forgot about the homemade Profiteroles. Yep – a double order per favore.

Mon Ami Gabi

I had to mention this “out of downtown” restaurant at 2300 N. Lincoln Park West. One of my favorites with so much great food that you’ll have a hard time deciding what to order. If I can do the Chicken Liver Mousse, Mussels Marinière, and the Profiterole Trio or Warm Chocolate Bread Pudding, I swear I can’t eat for a week.

On Saturday, January 30, from 1:00 P.M. - 3:00 P.M. the season’s first cooking class will teach you how to make some French classics; Frisee & Bacon Salad with soft-poached egg and croutons, Coq Au Vin with pommes puree and Banana Foster Crepe (another favorite of mine) served with vanilla ice cream and bananas foster sauce. The lunch includes a French wine tasting. Call now (773) 348-8886 to register.

Nacional 27

at 325 W Huron. I also did a post on this restaurant where the latin food and drinks are better than brilliant. I ate all over Mexico City for years and never had food this amazing. Taco flights, ceviches, and the N27 roast pig –this is one of my all time favorite places to indulge big time. Bring your friends and coworkers and be prepared to get down to some serious Mojitos and Margaritas.

Don’t forget the lookbetternaked Margarita I told you about in my previous post. You will LOVE them.

Every Thursday, N27 offers free salsa lessons from 6:30 – 8:30 PM. Get out your dancing shoes and ready for some sizzling moves.

R.J. Grunts

at 2056 N. Lincoln Park West, because RJ’s is still around after all this time, you know it has got to be good! I first ate here back in the 70’s with my aunt & uncle, who were big time foodies loved this place just blocks from their house. Just look at the website and it screams fun. Honestly, I laugh every time I open it up. RJ’s has an attitude that will simply not go away – thank goodness.


at 410 W Huron. This place has been around forever, too. A White Potato & Bacon Pizza with farm egg, asiago, fontina and aged parmesan with baby arugula is simply to write home about to your Italian Grandmother. Perfecto!


a product of the highly acclaimed chef/partner Rick Tramonto and executive pastry chef/partner Gale Gand (who is one of my idols), this is another one of LEYE’s gems. At 676 N. St. Clair Street, they call it progressive french but I swear it is true french down to the veal cheek + sweetbread and Gand’s spiced pumpkin ice cream, hazelnut and roasted pepitas… Yep… Tru perfection. Can I go on about how good everything else is on the menu?

I just read an article about Tramonto in the October 22-28th issue of Time Out Chicago. He is truly inspiring.

Vong's Thai Kitchen

at 6 W. Hubbard St., this true Thai has the most amazing Pad Thai and homemade curries. The Chocolate Beignets… I can do them daily along with the Mochi Bon Bons. It seems like they always get me on the desserts but fact of the matter is I could do a Pad Thai over dessert at this place any day. Did I just say that? Does not sound like me at all, does it?


at 159 W. Erie, Wildfire is a supper club that is all about Steaks,Chops & Seafood and American comfort food that is baked, double-baked, barbecue-rubbed, creamed and other great cooking methods that will add to your basic eating delight. I love the chopped salad here and think that it is about the best in Chicago. This is real comfort food you can get your arms around.

Wow Bao

meat-and-vegetable-filled hot Asian buns, this restaurant is at 1 West Wacker, 175 W. Jackson Blvd and 835 N. Michigan Avenue. Wow Bao also offers fresh Pad Thai salad, soups, and rice (or noodle) bowls topped with Teriyaki or Kung Pao chicken. Great Asian street…in fact, this would be great street food!!! – quick someone…get me a cart! Another dream job for the summer.

So much for my rants and raves on how much I love all of these restaurants. I have a very long history with many of them. You can enjoy numerous Lettuce Entertain You properties all over Chicago. Which is your favorite? I have so many I can’t decide where to go next. Not a problem since Melman will probably open another one up before I finish this post.

Bon Appetit!

The Dunn Holiday Party – Memories Are Made One Cookie At A Time!

My sister Colleen wrote me the other day and said “I think you should do a holiday cookie blog feature. I am always looking for something new to add to some of the traditional cookies we make.”

                   Photos/Recipe Source: The Dunns

I will admit that I did not have the time to bake cookies and candy this year but my friend Gina (the Italian Recipe Queen) had a big party the other day to bake and exchange Christmas cookies.

Cranberry Chip Cookies with Browned Butter Glaze is the Dunn’s favorite Christmas cookie and son Anthony told me that they are the best cookies EVER! He could not stop smiling when he talked about them so this is obviously a Christmas memory that is now a Dunn family tradition. And that is how memories and traditions are made…one cookie at a time!

Cranberry Chip Cookies with Browned Butter Glaze

Makes 42-48

1 c. sugar

3/4 c. brown sugar

1 stick butter, softened

1/4 c. skim milk

2 T. orange juice

1 egg

3 c. flour

1 tsp. baking powder

1/2 tsp. salt

1/4 tsp. baking soda

2-1/2 c. coarsely chopped cranberries

1 c. vanilla milk chips

Browned Butter Glaze:

(Note: Gina never uses all of this. In fact, she only used half this year)

1/3 c. butter

2 c. powdered sugar

1-1/2 tsp. vanilla

2-4 T. hot water

Heat oven to 375 and spray cookie sheets with cooking spray.Mix sugars and butter until well blended. Add orange juice, milk and egg. Stir in flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Carefully stir in cranberries and vanilla chips. Drop dough by rounded spoonfuls onto cookie sheets. Bake 10-15 minutes or until light brown. Cool.

For glaze, melt butter in a saucepan until browned. Remove from heat and whisk in powdered sugar, vanilla and enough water to make a drizzling consistency. Drizzle over cooled cookies. Let set before packaging.

Here is a cute idea that Gina’s daughter Jessica made for her piano students.

Cut Twizzlers in half and dip ends in melting chocolate. Sprinkle with nonpareils.

Italian Ricotta Cookies

Makes 72

1 c. butter

2 c. sugar

1/2 tsp. salt

1 lb. part skim Ricotta

2 eggs

1 tsp. vanilla

4-1/2 c. flour

1 tsp. baking powder

1 tsp. baking soda


1/2 c. butter

4 c. powdered sugar

1 tsp. vanilla

6 T. skim milk

Beat butter and sugar together. Add egg and Ricotta and vanilla; beat well. Sift together flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Add to batter.

Drop about a teaspoon of dough onto ungreased cookie sheets. Bake at 350 for about 10 minutes or until edges are lightly browned. Cool completely on wire racks.

For frosting beat butter. Add powdered sugar and vanilla. Add milk as needed. Frost cookies and add sprinkles if desired. You will not use all of the frosting.

Oreo Truffles

1 package Oreo cookies

1 package ( 8 oz) reduced fat cream cheese

1 package chocolate almond bark

Place 7 Oreos in a food processor and process until fine crumbs form. Remove and set aside for sprinkling.

Place remaining Oreos in food processor and process until fine crumbs form. Remove and place in a large bowl. Stir together with cream cheese. Form into balls and place on wax paper lined cookie sheets. Chill for 30 minutes.

Melt almond bark in microwave. Dip truffles in melted chocolate. Place on wax paper, sprinkle with reserved Oreo crumbs and let harden.

Peppermint Bark

1 package white almond bark

24 Brach's Starburst peppermint candies or 24 mini candy canes

Place peppermint candies in a large resealable plastic bag. Beat until crushed and there are some fine crumbs. Leave some larger pieces too.

Melt white bark in microwave until smooth. Place crushed candies in a colander. Sift through finely crushed candy and stir into melted bark.

Line a cookie sheet with wax paper. Spread melted bark mixture on wax paper. Sprinkle with larger reserved peppermint candies.

Peanut Butter Bon Bons

Makes 72

2 c. reduced fat peanut butter

1 stick butter, softened

1 lb. powdered sugar

3 c. Rice Krispies

Blend peanut butter and butter until smooth. Beat in powdered sugar. Add Rice Krispies and mix by hand. Mixture will be kind of dry. You have to squish it to make it stick together.

Place on cookie sheets lined with wax paper and freeze for at least one hour.


1 c. chocolate chips

8 oz. Hershey's Dark Chocolate Bars

1/2 bar paraffin wax.

Insert a toothpick into frozen balls. Dip in melted chocolate. Place on wax paper to harden. Store in the refrigerator.


30 Kraft caramels

1/4 c. heavy whipping cream

1 stick margarine

1 c. powdered sugar

1 c. finely ground pecans

pecan halves

1 package chocolate almond bark

( an extra bag of powdered sugar will be needed)

Melt caramels and whipping cream in the microwave. Stir until smooth. Add margarine and stir until melted. Stir in powdered sugar and ground pecans.

Line some baking sheets with wax paper and cover with a thick layer of powdered sugar. This will keep the turtles from sticking.

Drop caramel mixture my spoonfuls onto powdered sugar lined cookie sheets. Stick pecans in ends or wherever the caramel is spreading out of control.

Freeze for 1 hour.

Melt almond bark in the microwave. Remove 1 tray of turtles from the freezer at a time.

Place sheets of wax paper on counter or table. Dip turtles in chocolate and place on wax paper until hardened.

Frosted Ginger Creams

Makes 48 cookies

1/4 c. shortening

1/2 c. sugar

1 egg

1/3 c. molasses

2 c. flour

1 tsp. ground ginger

1/2 tsp. baking soda

1/2 tsp. salt

1/2 tsp. cinnamon

1/2 tsp. ground cloves

1/3 c. water


1-1/2 oz. reduced fat cream cheese

3 T. butter, softened

1 c. + 3 T. powdered sugar

1/2 tsp. vanilla

1-2 tsp.lemon juice

In a large mixing bowl, beat shortening and sugar. Beat in egg and molasses. Combine flour with dry ingredients and add to cream cheese mixture alternately with water. (dough will be soft)

Drop by heaping teaspoonfuls onto cookie sheets coated with cooking spray. Bake at 400 degrees for 7-8 minutes. Remove to wire racks to cool.

In a small mixing bowl, beat cream cheese and butter. Add powdered sugar and beat. Add vanilla and enough lemon juice to achieve spreading consistency. Frost cookies.

Store leftovers in the refrigerator.

Italian Almond Bars

Makes 72

2 c, four

1 tsp. baking soda

1/2 tsp. salt

1 c. butter, softened

1 c. sugar

1 can ( 7 oz) almond paste

4 eggs

1 tsp. vanilla

1/2 tsp. almond extract

10 drops red food coloring

6 drops green food coloring

1/4 c. seedless raspberry spreadable fruit

1/4 c. low sugar apricot preserves

6 oz. bittersweet chocolate, melted

Place oven racks in upper and lower thirds of oven and preheat to 350. Spray 3 (13 x 9) pans with cooking spray. Line with wax paper and spray lightly with cooking spray.

Combine the flour, baking soda and salt in a bowl.

With a mixer on high speed, beat the butter, sugar and almond paste until light and fluffy. Add eggs, one at a time, beating between each. Beat in vanilla and almond extract. Decrease speed to low. Add flour mixture, mixing until blended.

Divide dough into thirds. Tint one part with red food coloring, another part with green and leave the third part untinted.

Spread each layer in a prepared pan and bake for 12 minutes, rotating pans halfway through cooking time.

Remove to wire racks to cool completely.

Invert green layer onto a cutting board. Remove wax paper. Spread with raspberry spreadable fruit. Top with white layer. Remove wax paper and spread with apricot preserves. Top with red layer and remove paper. Cover with plastic wrap and place another cutting board or heavy skillet over the top. Refrigerate for several hours or overnight.

Melt chocolate. Spread over cake and let stand until chocolate hardens. Cut into 72 bars. You can freeze for up to 2 months.

Crinkle Top Chocolate Cookies

Makes 42

2 c. semisweet chocolate chips, divided

2 T. butter, softened

1 c. sugar

2 egg whites

1-1/2 tsp. vanilla

1-1/2 c. flour

1-1/2 tsp. baking powder

1/4 tsp. salt

1/4 c. water

1/2 c. powdered sugar

Melt 1 c. chocolate chips ( I use a double boiler) Stir until smooth and set aside.

Beat butter and sugar in a mixing bowl until crumbly. Add egg whites and vanilla. Beat well. Stir in melted chocolate.

Combine the flour, baking powder and salt. Add to butter mixture alternately with water. Stir in remaining chips. Cover and refrigerate for 2 hours or until easy to handle.

Shape dough into 1" balls and roll in powdered sugar. Place 2" apart on baking sheets coated with cooking spray. Bake at 350 for 10-12 minutes or until set. Remove to wire racks to cool.

Crescent Cookies

Makes 36-42

2 sticks butter, softened

4 T. powdered sugar

1 egg yolk

2 c. flour

1/2 c. powdered sugar

Beat butter. Add sugar, then egg yolk. Beat well. Add flour until well combined. Form into little crescent shapes and lightly flatten tops. Bake at 350 for 15 minutes. Cool for 15 minutes and then coat in powdered sugar.

Swedish Butter Cookies

3/4 c. butter

1/3 c. sugar

1 egg yolk

1 tsp. vanilla

2 c. flour

1/4 c. red currant jelly ( you may not use all)

1/2 c. powdered sugar ( you may not use all)


Cream together butter and sugar. Add egg yolk and beat well. Add vanilla, then flour. Beat well. Roll into logs. Cover and refrigerate for 2 hours. Cut logs into small sections approx. 1/4" thick. Place on an ungreased baking sheet. Dab currant jelly on each cookie. Bake at 350 for 8-10 minutes. Cook completely.

Mix powdered sugar with a small amount of milk to make a drizzling consistency. Drizzle over cookies.

Thanks Gina and Bon Appetit!

Harvest Salad Heads Up This Easy Friday Night Dinner

My sister sent this recipe for Harvest Salad that we make for a lot of our family parties. This salad is so good and perfect for the holidays. Even looks like Christmas!

Harvest Salad


Whisk to Blend:

¼ cup mayo

¼ cup pure maple syrup

3 Tbsp Champagne vinegar

2 tsp sugar

Gradually whisk in:

½ cup canola oil

½ tsp salt

¼ tsp pepper


Mix field greens

2 granny smith apples cut into matchsticks (I like my bigger)

½ cup dried tart cherries or crandberries

½ cup candid pecans (I found some made by Frito Lay called Praline Pecans that I love)

Sliced red onions

Add dressing just before serving.

For the rest of the quick and easy Friday night dinner...

I can’t tell you how much I LOVE my indoor grill. I know I have said it before but I have to say it again. I make a quick and healthy dinner in a matter of minutes and it tastes so fantastic. I cooked this salmon in about ten minutes and it is almost as good as cooking it on the Weber. I bought the salmon from my local meat and seafood market – the Daily Grind – at 600 Walnut Avenue. I don’t need to go to the grocery store anymore now that I have this great market near my house who also carries both produce and good bread. The prices…a little bit more than the local grocery but the food is 500% better. I now shop daily. Everything is so fresh. I have always loved the way Europeans eat and I can do that now.

I use my Asian plates because they are a clever portion control tool. I know, it looks like an enormous meal when in fact it is a tiny bite sized portion. I trick myself into being full even before I finish half of it. The best investment that I have made in my healthy lifestyle is my Asian plates…all from my resale store for $3.00.

To compliment my quick and easy, my friend bought a bottle of wine from The Village Market in Lake Bluff for $12.00 and it was incredible. Gouguenheim Valle Escondido is a 2008 Chardonnay from Argentina and was a huge surprise for our Friday night dinner. Sue has really picked some great wines to pair with your meals so ask her about it the next time you are in. The Village Market is at 24 East Scranton and has a large wine room in the back with wine tastings every Saturday from 1:00 – 4:00 PM.

Bon Appetit!

Evanston – The Big City With A Small Town Feel

I started working in Evanston this past year and really love the town. Northwestern University adds a lot of character and I try to imagine what it was like back when my dad was in the Marine Corps and attending classes there back in the 40’s. I am sure that my parents loved Evanston too so my ties to this neighborhood are both old and significant.

When my son Tommy was little, we attended BullDog Boot Camp in Evanston and spent the better part of a month on the lakefront killing ourselves (it was the chin ups from the get go) and trying to get fit. That was one of the most memorable times that we have shared together. A bonding moment that I still laugh about hysterically. I could barely run a mile back then and now I’m running over 15.

I like the Century movie theater in Evanston. A block from the train, you can pop in on a Saturday or Sunday for the first show and it is hardly ever crowded. I plop myself in the front row and cry my eyes out … last time between a mother of 8 who just had to get out of the house and two guys who knew the plot, the storyline and even the ending…they had seen this movie before. In fact, it was their 7th time.

As I said in an earlier blog this past fall, Evanston has one of the best Farmers Markets in the city. There are so many cute, little shops, along with dozens of great restaurants. Two of my favorite places to eat are:

LULU’s – 804 Davis Street

I discovered LULU’s years ago and eat there often. Now it is just a few doors away from where I work. Some of the things I order off their menu are:

THE BENTO BOX. – I LOVE THE BENTO BOX. Bentos are popular in the Philippines, Korea, Taiwan and India. For $11 you get sample sizes of a lot of different dishes.

Other great eats at LuLu’s are the Hot & Sour Soup, Vegetable Spring Rolls, Pot Stickers and Ginger Chicken Salad.

Personally, I cannot get enough of the Vietnamese Rice Noodle Salad - Chilled rice stick noodles, grilled beef, lettuce, crispy spring roll,ground peanuts, cilantro and mint. In fact, LULU’s was my first introduction to good Vietnamese food. I’ll be doing a post on this salad as the flavors are delicious and something ethnic you can do to impress your friends and family. It’s so easy and so good!

Bravo - 1701 Maple Avenue

Bravo’s is known for their outstanding Italian food. I am a creature of habit and always order the chopped salad and a Flatbread Appetizer Pizza – the Margherita with thinly sliced, ripe tomatoes with fresh Mozzarella and fresh basil. It is always good BUT my friend Mike ordered wood-grilled Tilapia and when it came to the table I took one look and realized that I need to start branching out from my “usual”. The Tilapia was so DELICIOUS it made me wish that I had “gone out of my box” and ordered it myself. Good thing to start doing as you can really get caught in a food rut by ordering the safe favorites all the time. Try something new the next time you go out and always try to order something that you will not make at home.

I instantly made one of my New Years resolutions for 2010 - not to order the same thing twice at any restaurant. Let’s see how long this one lasts!


Kerryman – Have I Gone To Burger Heaven?

Bonnie and I went to celebrate my birthday last Friday (yes, I am making merry as long as I can - Happy Birthday dear Suzi, Happy Birthday to me) at Kerryman. This is a place we went to frequently this past summer after long runs and they have a charming outdoor patio, spectacular plants and a welcoming wait staff…all from Ireland.

This was the first time we have eaten inside the restaurant and it is multilevel (there is a magnificent table for 10 all by itself near the window on the 3rd floor), very cozy – like a place you could sit for hours and sip wine and chat with your best friend – and big cushy, leather booths. This place has one of the best Angus burgers in the city with huge cut French fries and the big bonus - no grease…absolutely not one drop!

They also have Irish comfort foods on the menu including an Irish Breakfast with sausages, bacon, black and white pudding, potatoes, tomato, eggs and beans. That sounds like an after-marathon breakfast.

The Kerryman is located at 70 West Erie (Clark & Erie).

Bon Appetit!

A Sandwich Is Just A Sandwich – Or Is It?

No matter what ingredients you put on a sandwich…THE BREAD IS THE SANDWICH. It can be simple – like turkey, a tomato and spicy mustard but if you bought or baked GREAT bread you’ve got yourself a fantastic sandwich.

Even if there are more calories in the bread I buy, I uses just a little slice like the sandwich above. Yummy!

Angel In The City

This is one of my favorite homes in Chicago (17 East Erie) right down the street from Kerryman. Now trying for an invite inside so look for my post as a challenge is something I always try to pull off.

P.S. This one might be a little tricky.

There Is Magic In His Pot - Alchemy or Cooking?

As I said in a previous post, my brother Terry is a great chef. He has intuition and that is a lot of what being a great chef is all about. He always has fun in his kitchen and is willing to try anything that pops into his head…and it usually always works. I often wonder if this is Alchemy as he always has magic in his pot.

Take a peek at some of the dishes that he made when I was home recently in Minnesota. When I asked him how long it took to steam the mussels , he said “for about a half a glass of wine.” If you figure it out, let me know. Question is - Am I too old to be adopted?


Monday, December 7, 2009

Chicago French Market

The culinary world just took another huge step forward this week with the opening of Chicago’s 15,000 square foot European-inspired indoor market giving access to local artisans, farmers and purveyors selling an extensive assortment of food, wine, chocolates, cheese and flowers.

At 131 N Clinton Street, the market is connected to Ogilvie Transportation Center’s busy suburban commuter concourse. Other U.S. cities such as New York, San Francisco and Seattle have flourishing city markets and now Chicago has been added to the growing list.

The Bensidoun family, the largest market operators in Paris, is co-developing the market and will operate and manage Chicago French Market. The family members are fourth generation market operators. Chicago French Market will also host ongoing events, seasonal celebrations and other special events throughout the year.

Two of my favorite vendors are:

                                                             Mary Nguyen Aregoni and Theresa Nguyen

Saigon Sisters. Two sisters, Mary Nguyen Aregoni and Theresa Nguyen, along with their mother Suu Nguyen will offer Vietnamese cuisine with French flavors. The menu includes salads, the customary summer/spring rolls (Goi Cuon), classic Pho soups and my favorite - Banh Mi Vietnamese sandwiches. The ingredients will focus on healthy, flavorful vegetables, spices and herbs, and meats and seafood from local farmers and purveyors. I will be visiting with the Saigon Sisters next week for the Banh Mi sandwiches and Pho – two of my favorite Vietnamese foods. We’ll see how it stacks up against Ba Le and Nhu Lan – my favorite places in Chicago to get authentic Banh Mi.

Necessity Baking Company Chicago-born Ellen Carney Granda turned her passion of artisan bread baking into a rising bread company serving North Suburban farmer’s markets including mine – the Lake Bluff Farmers Market. She brings the skill of traditional bread baking techniques back, supplying hand-shaped and seasonally flavored breads and using only natural ingredients. I bought a variety of breads from Ellen this summer and all of them were exceptional.

The Necessity photo was taken of Ellen’s niece at the Lake Bluff Farmers Market this past summer. So happy that they have landed a permanent spot in the Chicago French Market.

See http://www.frenchmarketchicago.com/ for complete vendor listing and hours.

Bon Appetit!