Looks like this is the end…

…but stay tuned for next summer. Sigh. No more home-grown tomatoes. I was watching a friends’ place while they were out of town, collecting mail and watering the garden. And picking the last of their cherry tomatoes. Sweet basil, too. The flower pot (an excellent conveyance for small produce) was decorated by their kid.

Pizza for dinner

I had a basket of figs. I wanted melted cheese. So for dinner last night: a sweet and savory pizza, plus a salad.

Using my mixer with the dough hook, I cranked out a batch of pizza dough. Go for the rapid-rise yeast, it’s fantastic for the procrastinating baker….although I don’t recommend it for breads or rolls. [A pizza dough recipe that’s become a standby is from A Year in a Vegetarian Kitchen, but any one that calls for olive oil should work fine.]

Covered the bowl with a clean towel…and then walked down the street to the grocery for fresh mozzarella, prosciutto, and salad greens. Ran into my old kitchen buddies on the way, who speak only Polish but somehow always manage to express both their love for me and their disappointment that I’m not pregnant.

When I got home with the goods, the figs were delivered to a bath of balsamic vinegar, salt, pepper, and chopped basil. Cranked the oven to 450F. Rolled out half of the dough, which had ballooned during my short excursion. [The other half went into the freezer.] Brushed the crust with olive oil, sprinkled with sea salt, put into oven. [Use a pizza stone if you have one, and get it plenty hot beforehand. Or put a heavy baking sheet in the oven to hotten up. Which ever you use, sprinkle the surface with a little cornmeal…makes for a crisp crust bottom.] After the crust puffed a bit, I sprinkled on a handful of grated asiago to prevent the ingredients from sogging things up. When the crust had just begun to show signs of browning, it was time lay on the fresh mozzarella and the macerated figs. [I used the soaking liquid as the basis for our salad’s vinaigrette.]

After about 10 minutes of baking, the broiler took care of browning the bubbly cheese. A sprinkling of chopped parsley, a scattering of prosciutto, and we had a dyn-o-mite pizza to munch on while the Cubs lost to the Brewers.


From childhood I’ve loved cornbread, begging my mom to buy the Jiffy mixes that were 4 for a dollar at the A&P a few blocks away. So moist, so corny. The Husband shares my love for the corn, which we enjoy as a great accompaniment to stews, cheese-filled omelets, and anything pork. Our local bakery produces an interesting variation with a whole hard-boiled egg inside. Delicious! Riding that fine line between sweet and savory, cornbread satisfies like no other member of the “quick” bread family.

Fortunately, I’ve grown out of baking from a box. The other night I made a batch using the hot skillet method and a recipe from my dinner hero, Mark Bittman. Of course I modified things just a bit, mostly to allow for what I did (and didn’t) have on hand. This is a perfect late-summer dish because it calls for corn cut straight from the cob. Be sure to use stone-ground cornmeal; my current fave is Bob’s Red Mill. Don’t even bother with the Aunt Jemima kind in the cardboard container…it’s got none of the tasty, nutritious germ from the corn left in it.

Brown Butter Cornbread with Cheese & Thyme

– Preheat the oven to 375F. Put a stick of butter in a cast iron skillet (at least a 9-inch) and place in the oven.

– In a large bowl, mix together 1 cup each of flour and stone-ground white or yellow cornmeal, 1 T. baking powder, 1 t. salt, and 3 T. sugar.

– Pour 1 1/4 c. buttermilk into a 2-cup measuring cup. Add 1 egg and mix together. Check the butter in the oven: when it’s brown, pour 1/4 cup into the measuring cup and mix together. Leave the rest of the butter in the pan.

– Add the buttermilk mixture to the dry, mix until just combined. Fold in 3/4 c. kernels from a cob or two of sweet corn, 1 T. chopped fresh thyme leaves, and 4 oz. of crumbly cheese….farmer, goat, fresh ricotta all work well.

– Spread the batter in the pan and bake for 30 minutes or until a tester comes out clean.

What a girl wants

The Husband and I celebrated our 6th wedding anniversary on Sunday with Champagne, cheese, and little gifts. If you’re paying attention, we went to dinner a few weeks ago under the “anniversary” heading but we have two anniversaries and dammit, we celebrate both….it’s complicated.

Anyway, back to the gifts:

Every neighborhood should have a chocolate shop. If you’re lucky, you have Coco Rouge.

I love this place. Owned by an insanely talented couple who crank out some serious chocolate love, they’ve been making confections for years. Sipping a cup of thick, highly flavored hot chocolate in their elegant-met-groovy-on-a-corner-in-Berlin store is my absolute favorite guilty pleasure.

The wonderful Husband knows of my affection and presented me with a box of dark chocolate truffles from the Evolved collection: leatherwood (fruity honey with sea salt), miel a la lavande (lavender honey), Turkish coffee (espresso, pistachio, cardamom), and the deeply delicious cassius (single malt scotch).

I’m trying so hard to share. So…very….hard.

A new farmer’s market

Oh dear. I stayed up too late on Saturday night to make it to my neighborhood farmer’s market on Sunday morning. So I made my very first trip to the Green City Market in Lincoln Park today (Wednesday). Reader, I am in trouble. It’s a much bigger market than my lil neighborhoodie one. People sit around on chairs, chatting and drinking what appeared to be free coffee. A couple of vendors sell cheese. There are lots and lots of pastries: both Bennison’s and Bleeding Heart were in the house. A chef was making crepes. The hot guys from Nichols Farms were there. And there’s a nice man from Mint Creek Farm selling lamb chops…and he takes Visa. So much for my $10 limit.

I came home with ears of sweet corn, a big bunch of basil, yellow heirloom tomatoes, the lamb chops, baby arugula, and some crazy looking baby eggplants. And I’m not telling how much I spent.

Cake for breakfast!

Plum Kuchen

*You can make this traditional German coffee cake in under an hour, which includes baking time. Slip out of bed before everyone else does and let the baking aroma wake up the family. Great with a cup of coffee. Also good with bacon.

For the cake:

1 1/2 c. flour
1 1/2 t. baking powder
1 t. cinnamon
1/4 t. kosher salt
6 T. unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
2/3 c. sugar
2 large eggs
2 t. vanilla extract
1/2 t. almond extract
1/2 c. sour cream or Greek-style yogurt

For on top:

5-6 large plums, pitted and cut into wedges

1/4 t. cinnamon

3 T. raw sugar

2 t. melted butter

Heat oven to 325°F. Butter and flour your baking pan (I usually use 2 6-inch springforms so we can give one of the cakes to a friend, but you can use a 9×13 pan, 2 loaf pans, etc.)

Combine flour, baking powder, 1 teaspoon cinnamon and salt into small bowl. Using a stand mixer with the paddle attachment, combine butter and sugar until fluffy. Beat in eggs and extracts. Alternate adding flour mix and sour cream (or yogurt) until just combined. Spread batter in pan, smoothing the top.

Arrange plum wedges on the batter. Take an extra minute and make it look pretty. Sprinkle cinnamon-n-sugar over plums. Drizzle the melted butter on top.

Bake about 40 minutes or until tester comes out clean. Let cool to just barely warm before removing from the pan. Or leave it in the pan and just cut pieces for the hungry family to have with their morning coffee. Covered with foil, the kuchen can sit on your counter for a day or two. Serves 4-8, I guess.

Sausage party

Every now and again the husband and I go on a meat bender: beef salad, steak tacos, pork chops, chicken thighs, and burgers within a span of time much too short to be healthy. This weekend was like that, but with sausage. Lots and lots of sausage.

Saturday night at a friend’s house, we were treated to an astounding pile of grilled sausages. Truly delicious were the house-made garlic veal and shitaake-leek pork sausages from August, a sweet little grocer on the edge of Wicker Park. And it wouldn’t be a Chicago grill fest without something from Paulina Meat Market, a venerable German butcher where it’s all meat, all day. Traditional bratwursts and *new* trendy sundried tomato sausages. Thank you, barnyard.

Earlier that day I’d picked up a sandwich for the husband at Bari. Being Labor Day weekend, their coils of fresh sausage (hot or sweet) were completely sold out. The man in line ahead of me had called in his order, which appeared to be at least 10 pounds of encased goodness, not to mention substantial packages of pork chops and ribs. When I asked him what time to come over for dinner, he didn’t laugh. Ah well, uptight meat man, more cholesterol for you.

Also consumed this weekend were spicy garlic Italian links from Serrelli’s, one of several hotly contested purveyors of the best Chicago-style Italian beef (must say, I prefer theirs to Buona, Al’s #1, or Mr Beef). I’d never tried their house-made sausage, which I received in payment for babysitting a friend’s kids. Nice work if you can get it: fresh sausage, perfectly spicy, no giardinara needed.

At least the husband and I are back on the gym track. I see a week of salads on the horizon.