Simple Summer Delight

11 07 2011

I have to admit, I am not the biggest fan of baking.  Don’t get me wrong, I love to eat desserts but I just don’t like the process of following a recipe to make them.  When it comes to cooking, I love to be creative with the process.  I don’t think I own a full set of measuring cups, which I should, because I just hate to be measure so precisely.  My favorite thing about cooking is using my hands to cut, season and feel when the food I am cooking needs more flavor.  My creative process involves imagining ingredients that I think will work together,  cooking them and adding seasoning to make the flavors blend.  I usually let the food tell me what it needs.

When it comes to desserts, the flour and butter sure don’t speak to me in the same way.  Baking is all about precision which is not my forte.  I love simple desserts with ripe seasonal ingredients and a rustic presentations……Apricot-Rhubarb Cobbler, delicious Red Velbet Cupcakes with lots of frosting and moist cake, home-made Pistachio Ice-Cream, a simple high-quality Chocolate Cake with vanilla whipped cream or seasonal berries.  What can I say, I like what I like?

When I am asked to bake for a catered party or private dinner, I go with recipes that are simple, delicious and most of all consistent. It’s a bad feeling when you are not sure if your dessert is going to “work-out”.  In my business, people expect everything to not only work out, but to wow them.  I recently came across a wonderful summer recipe for “Cinnamon Strawberry Shortcake” that I wanted to share it with you.  This is a recipe you should make the day of your party.  The best part is that you don’t have to worry about it coming out.  I can guarantee you that it will.  Just yesterday, I made the cake for 45 guests and it was a home run!

Cinnamon Strawberry Shortcake

(Serves Eight)


2 cups, AP Flour
2 tsp., Baking Powder
1/3 cup, Sugar
1/4 tsp., Ground Nutmeg
1/4 tsp., Ground Cinnamon
1/3 cup, Butter, cut in cubes
1 egg, Beaten well
2-4 Tbs, Whole Milk
2-3 Tbs., Butter (melted)
1 egg (beaten well)
Macerated Strawberries
3 cups, Fresh Strawberries, stemmed and cut in quarters
2 Tbs. Powdered Sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract or Vanilla Bean
Fresh Whipped Cream
1 cup, Heavy Cream
3/4 Tbs., Powdered Sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract or Vanilla Bean
 (Putting the mixing bowl and beaters in the freezer for half an hour will give you successful whipped cream every time)


Preheat oven to 425. Mix the strawberries with the vanilla and sugar in a bowl or ziplock bag and set aside. 
Grease a round, 9-inch square pan and set aside. In a large Kitchen Aid bowl, sift together the flour and baking powder. Add the sugar, nutmeg and cinnamon. Blend in the butter and egg and mix well. Add enough milk to make a moist, slightly sticky dough. Start with 2 Tsp. and add more as needed.
Sprinkle a generous amount of flour on your countertop, place the dough on top, and roll the dough gently into a 9-inch round. (you can use a roller or your hands for a more rustic look)  Place the round into the cake pan. (dont worry if it isn’t a perfect fit) Combine the melted butter and egg and brush the top of the cake generously with this mixture. Bake at 425 for 13-15 minutes, until the top is caramelized. Remove from the pan, let the cakes cool.
Right before service, make the fresh whipped cream by beating the heavy cream, powdered sugar and vanilla in a Kitchen Aid with a whisk attachment or a mixing bowl with a whisk until it reaches your desired consistency.
To assemble, use a knife to score around the edges of the cake to pop it out of the pan.  Cut the cake in 8 even pieces.  Add a large spoonful of strawberries and strawberry juice on each piece of cake.  Top with a large dollop of fresh whipped cream. Serve and enjoy!

Experiencing the Seasons Through Food

6 07 2011

The way I cook is driven by ingredients.  I never used to be that kind of cook, but living in San Francisco and working at farm to table restaurants changed me.  It opened up a world of ingredients that I never knew existed in the U.S.  It caused me to think in a creative ways about every type of produce.  A simple carrot wasn’t a non-sense vegetable to me anymore.  It was a jewel of flavor for roasting and mixing with a spice blend to serve on a salad, it was vegetable that came in 6 colors (not simply orange), it was something that you didn’t just eat with spinach dip.

Living in California was not about battling cold winters and dramatic changes in weather.  But as a Chicagoan, I always enjoyed the seasons and I need something to represent change. I got what I needed by experiencing the seasons through food. I finally understood that asparagus meant we were in Spring and Beets meant Fall.  I would count down the days till the green (Ischia) and purple (Mission) figs would be appear at the market in the summer so I could eat them whole right out of the basket.  Life had a different flow in California and  I am so thankful I learned about seasonal cooking.

In Chicago we have tons farmers markets.  They might not be as bountiful as the ones in California, but they exist and they go on all summer long (and in the winter).  Most of the big ones are on the weekends in the summer,  but there are plenty of small markets during the week sprinkled all over the city and suburbs.  The Green City Market is biggest market in Chicago in Lincoln Park on Wednesday and Saturday mornings. I hope this link helps you find a market close to your home.

If you’ve never been to a farmers market,  I can promise you its a great experience.  It gets you in touch with where your food comes from and how good something picked that morning can taste.  The market culture is also a treat. From my experience the people who shop at farmers markets in Chicago are typically down to earth.  Cell phones are put away, people are smiling and truly living in the moment.

If you had to ask me what ingredient I am most excited about at this moment, it is Green Garlic.  What is Green Garlic?  It’s this crazy vegetable featured above.  It looks like a mix between regular garlic and large scallions, but it has a totally unique flavor.  Green Garlic are youthful stalks that farmers pick early before the bulbs of garlic fully develop.  It’s growing season in short (from late spring to mid-summer in Chicago), so get it while you can.

Why do I love Green Garlic?  Because it is incredibly versatile and has delicate flavor.  I use it in the same dishes I would use regular garlic but the main difference is that Green Garlic has a softer flavor.  It almost never overpowers, it simply adds are wonderful backdrop of onion-garlic like flavor to a dish.

What do I use it in?  I have been on a pasta kick lately!  When I get home from a long day and I don’t want to make a huge fuss over dinner, I make Green Garlic Pasta.  I saute a whole bulb of green garlic, minced small, with another vegetable I have in my pantry like thinly sliced asparagus, zucchini, or green peas. I bring water up to a boil in another pot and cook some of my Italian pasta al dente.  I drain the pasta, cool it down a bit and pour it into the pan with the green garlic and vegetable.  I drizzle it with a good amount of high quality olive oil, fresh Parmesan cheese and sprinkle sea salt and fresh ground pepper over the top.  I pour a large portion of this pasta in a bowl and garnish the dish with fresh torn basil.  That is my “g0-to” meal of the week.  Try it, there is nothing not to enjoy!