French Patisserie Meringues

how to make meringues

When you think about French pâtisseries, or pastry shops, what is the first thing that comes to your mind? An impossibly flaky, buttery croissant? An almost-too-beautiful-to-eat tarte aux fruits? A towering croquembouche encased in spun sugar? Rows of brightly colored macarons? Sensible choices all. But for me, the favorite French pâtisserie … [Read more...]

Understanding the Terminology in the Meat Case

how to buy meat

Today’s post is sponsored by Illinois Farm Families, for which I serve as a Brand Ambassador. You can read more about my role as a Brand Ambassador here. What do you look for when you buy meat? Is taste the most important factor in your purchasing decisions? Is it price? Safety? Sustainability? Do you see terms such as "organic," … [Read more...]

Meatless Spaghetti a la Carbonara

vegetarian pasta recipes

Today's post is sponsored by Safest Choice Eggs as part of its March Meatless Meals Party. Before March 31st, enter to win one of two Safest Choice Prize Packs, worth over $450, containing a $200 Amex gift card, a 10" inch Lodge Round Fry pan, a set of Sur La Table mixing bowls, a year's supply of eggs and more. When I was a little girl, one … [Read more...]

Hamantaschen Galette for Purim

hamentaschen galette

Saturday at sundown, the Jewish festival of Purim begins. Purim commemorates the deliverance of the Jewish people from an evil government minister, named Haman, who plotted to destroy the Jewish community in ancient Persia. In essence, Purim is the Jewish "carnival" holiday -- every culture has one -- where people are encouraged to dress in … [Read more...]

Chunky Red Lentil Soup

lentil recipes

Since I started cooking with lentils about two years ago, I have become increasingly enamored of these little pulses. They are a great source of vegetable protein -- the third highest level of protein by weight among legumes -- and relatively quick-cooking. Unlike dried beans, which need to be soaked prior to use or take long to cook, lentils are … [Read more...]

Change Up Your Squash with Risotto

how to make risotto

I'm making all meatless meals this week. No, it's not in anticipation of Lent. Rather, we are atoning. Last weekend, we took the kids to one of those Brazilian steakhouses where men dressed as gauchos circle the room and slice hunks of meat off pitchforks for gluttonous guests. And that's after you have loaded up on vegetables, cheese and cold cuts … [Read more...]

Make Gougeres (and Feel a Little French)

make-ahead appetizers

As longtime readers of West of the Loop know, I am a confirmed Francophile. There was a time in my life when I thought I might become an ex-pat and live in France when I grew up. A year of actual living in France cured me of that notion, but I still love all things Gallic, the food perhaps most of all. If you go a French person's house for … [Read more...]

Roasted Red Pepper Dip

goat cheese and roasted red pepper dip

Dip is a sore subject in my house. With a husband who doesn't like mayonnaise, sour cream or even really cream cheese, I struggle to come up with a dip that people in my house will actually eat. Under normal circumstances, I might not even try. If I were hosting my book club or some similar event, I might indulge in one of those Barefoot Contessa … [Read more...]

Homemade Tortellini? You Can Do It!

how to make tortellini

2014 is turning out to be the year of fresh pasta. Ever since I took the Pasta Workshop at The Chopping Block, I have been cranking out homemade pasta -- literally -- every few days. I have a habit of getting obsessed with a new skill or piece of equipment and when that happens my poor family ends up eating the same food for weeks. At least with … [Read more...]

Chicken Tinga Tostadas for Easy Weeknight Mexican Flavor

easy chicken tinga

If someone asked me to name my favorite trick for making weeknight meals easier, it would be this: roasted split chicken breasts. If you roast several chicken breasts over the weekend, or whenever you have time and then shred the meat and save it in the refrigerator, you have the makings for at least two or three quick and easy weeknight dinners. … [Read more...]

Asian Steak Lettuce Wraps

steak lettuce rolls

I am a member of the Collective Bias®  Social Fabric® Community.  This shop has been compensated as part of a social shopper amplification for Collective Bias and its advertiser. If you are like me, you are always wondering what chefs know that the average home cook doesn't. Without access to restaurant equipment and ingredients, can home … [Read more...]

Recap of the February Chicago Food Swap

Many swap items had a Valentine's theme.

The Chicago Food Swap held its February swap this past weekend, on February 8, at the kitchens of All Natural Chicago Catering, a local catering company specializing in healthy, freshly made food for corporate and private events. Husband and wife owners Tess and Mickey -- he's the chef -- were incredibly gracious hosts and everyone loved their … [Read more...]

Pasta-Making Class at The Chopping Block

how to make pasta

One of the kitchen skills that has eluded me for years was how to make fresh pasta. Despite purchasing the right ingredients -- hello, semolina flour! -- and following instructions, my dough never became smooth and elastic enough to roll into long sheets. My noodles always ended up dense and chewy instead having that perfect toothiness that fresh … [Read more...]

Kid-Friendly Valentine’s Day Treat: Chocolate-Drizzled Popcorn

valentine's day recipes kid-friendly

My daughter, Zuzu, started middle school this year and she takes her new responsibilities as a Tween very seriously. She showers in the morning and spends twenty minutes fixing her hair into the perfect messy bun. Her mission in life to collect every variety of EOS lip balm and all the Bath and Body Works shower gels. She wants to buy her clothes … [Read more...]

Valentine’s Day Cheesecake Brownies

brownies for Valentine's Day

In my view, the best reason to make brownies from scratch is so that you can add cheesecake to them. I'd turn down the chocolatiest, fudgiest brownie any day for a swirly, marbleized cream cheese brownie. The slight tanginess of the cream cheese is the perfect foil for the richness of the chocolate. Better than either cheesecake or a plain brownie, … [Read more...]

Citrus from Mariano’s Is a Ray of Sunshine

citrus fruits

I am a member of the Collective Bias® Social Fabric® Community. This shop at Mariano's has been compensated as part of a social shopper amplification for Collective Bias and its advertiser. Have I convinced you yet that now -- right now -- is the absolute best time of year for citrus fruits? If my posts about Meyer lemons and Key limes … [Read more...]

BBQ Chicken Flatbread

barbeque chicken pizza

I must make a pizza or flatbread for dinner at least once a week. It's my go-to meal for especially hectic evenings or when I'm just feeling lazy. It's so easy to make pizza at home and the results are delicious, and healthier than ordering pizza, not to mention less expensive. Not only are pizzas and flatbreads easy and quick weeknight meals, … [Read more...]

Winter Fruit Pie for National Pie Day

winter fruit pie

When I learned that January 23 is National Pie Day, that was all the excuse I needed to plan to bake a pie. I am not an expert pie baker by any means. But pie appeals to me as a traditional and all-American dessert. You guys know that I am a sucker for lost arts -- hence all the canning -- and pie-making, these days, seems to fall into that … [Read more...]

Spinach Lasagna Roll-Ups

lasagna rolls

There are so few foods that all four members of my family will eat. I can get three out of four easily. Zuzu, JR and I will eat bacon; my husband won't. Zuzu, JR and my husband will eat cantalope; I won't. And my husband, Zuzu and I will eat many, many things that JR won't. The best chance I have to get all four of us on the same page, … [Read more...]

Cheddar Apple Chicken Sausage Bites

superbowl party foods

When my husband was living in New York City right out of college, he threw an annual Super Bowl party, the signature elements of which were a big pot of chili and a sign on his apartment door with the number of the game in Roman numerals. After he left New York for law school -- which was the best thing he ever did because that was where he would … [Read more...]

Key Lime Curd for Teatime, Dessert and Beyond

how to make key lime curd

I am still playing around with the Key limes that I brought home from Florida. But even if I had to rely on my local grocery store for citrus fruits, I would still find plenty of delicious varieties to chose from. This is truly the best season to be exploring the versatility of citrus fruits. A casual stroll through your grocery store's produce … [Read more...]

Key Lime Meltaways

key lime recipes

Continuing on my theme of cooking with citrus fruits -- a perfect January theme -- today I present the Key lime. Smaller than its cousin the Persian lime, which is the variety we usually see in stores, the Key lime is particularly juicy and acidic. It has a smooth rind, a greenish-yellow color when ripe and lots of pesky seeds.  Key limes also have … [Read more...]

Asian Chicken Noodle Soup

Asian Chicken Noodle soup

Is it cold where you are? Is the ground covered in snow? Yeah, tell me about it. After the coldest December in twenty years, Chicago is bracing itself for an even colder January. I came home from two weeks in sunny Florida to 18 inches of snow and below-freezing temperatures. It has been a shock to the system to say the least. What we all need … [Read more...]

Meyer Lemon Sour Cream Pound Cake

Meyer lemon tree

In January, just about the only excitement to be found in the produce section is in citrus. All the other fruit has that anemic, flown-in-from-the-southern-hemisphere look. Summer vegetables like peppers, zucchini and tomatoes are expensive or tasteless or both. And while I love cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, root vegetables, and winter squash, by … [Read more...]

Last Minute Gift: Thyme-Infused Sea Salt Caramels

how to make caramels

I was running around Oak Park yesterday taking care of some last-minute holiday errands when I ran into one of my canning students. She pulled me aside to ask if I had any last-minute edible gift ideas. Apparently her son thought the gift that she had picked out for his teacher was not going to cut it. I could have acted all superior and claimed … [Read more...]