Category Archives: Dizzarts

Birthday Dinner


The last time Christine and Chuck visited, Chuck said something to the effect of, “I’d rather eat anything that someone I know made for me than go to a restaurant any day.”  It made me stop and think a minute and I decided that, almost every time, I would agree with him.  There is something about food that someone chooses to make for you – no matter what it is – that tastes especially satisfying. Luckily, my gracious friends pretty much feel the same way, or at least they make every attempt to appear that way.  Even when a dish comes out badly (overcooked meat or vegetables, a half-risen cake), I’ve had the luck of seeing smiling faces and clean plates.

When I asked the Bun what he wanted for his birthday dinner – mainly, whether he wanted to go out or stay in – he gave me a little look that said, “would you mind cooking for me?”  Of course, I was pleased with his answer.  After deliberating on a menu for a few days, I decided on a bit of inspiration in the form of pork rillettes, which is basically like a meaty, fatty spread you eat on bread.  It is, of course, French.  A French meal, of course!

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Angel Food Cake


Angel Food Cake

As far as sweets are concerned, I can usually take them or leave them.  I understand the appeal of pastries, in all their myriad forms, but I just prefer something salty over something sweet most of the time.  If there is a cheese plate offered for dessert, I always opt for that over gooey chocolate cake or even a perfect pear tart; my dear friend Michael made me appreciate cheese as an end to a meal long ago, and I can’t thank him enough for that pearl of wisdom – there is something so satisfying about it.

That said, there is one confection that is my absolute downfall: Angel Food Cake.  It probably started with my mum, who always made a special cake for our brithdays when we were little.  From my first birthday, there is a hilarious sequence of photos of me (“bald as a billiard ball,” as mum would say) in my high chair with a giant chocolate cake in front of me; I taste the frosting, show off a mostly tooth-less grin, plant my face into the cake, and then emerge with my whole face covered in frosting.  My parents always did a lot to make my birthday very special, and that always included a cake.

One year, mum found a recipe for Stuffed Angel Food Cake, which basically halted the need to look for another birthday cake recipe ever again.  It was your basic homemade Angel Food Cake (which I find are always much bigger than the store-bought kind) filled with sweetened whipped cream flavored with cocoa powder.  It was like heaven to me as a young birthday boy.  I would dig in for piece after piece of that cake, spacing out my portions over a two-day span; with much sadness, I would savor the last piece and wait until the next year for my next fix.  Though it was easy and  relatively cheap to make, the fact that I only had that cake on my birthday made it very special.

It has been years since I had Angel Food Cake of any kind (probably close to a decade) and something prompted me recently to make it again.  Everything about it is brilliant: the flavor, the texture, the extreme whiteness of the interior.  Sure, this cake takes a little more effort than opening a box and mixing together, but it is absolutely worth it. I used the Joy of Cooking recipe for this one, and made no alterations.  In future postings, I plan to switch up the flavorings and see how we might experiment with the sugar level (I don’t think it needs to be that sweet).  Also, I am pretty sure I’ll be posting the birthday version this June.  Stay tuned!

Cookie Time


Mexican Wedding Cookies

I only really make cookies at one time of year (December), but I am always looking for a new and fun recipe, or a variation on an oldie but goodie.  Last year, we revamped our moms’ thumbprint cookies to a chocolate variety, filled with cherry or orange preserves.  The cherry version was a real hit, but the orange came off a little bitter alongside dark chocolate.  This year, we are making old standbys, for sure, like the Bun’s Mexican Wedding Cookies shown above; he used to make them for his Nana because they were her favorite cookie, so they always have a place in our cookie tin.  However, we are brainstorming some future favorites, too, and in some unexpected ways.

For the most part, I gravitate toward either spicy or chocolate-y cookies, so I think it may be fun to combine these flavors in a chocolate-ginger cookie, or one with a lot of cinnamon and nutmeg.  Another idea I have is to make a gingerbread dough without the heavy molasses, making a lighter colored, but spicy cookie.  However, I fear that the texture might suffer, since I think that the molasses is what gives the cookie that signature chewy texture.  The goal on that one is to let the spices (cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, allspice, clove) take the lead on flavor.

Pushing the envelope a bit, I suggested to the Bun that we revamp what people in Chicago (and my hometown in Pennsylvania) call “Kolache,” which are these little cookies that are a square of dough with two corners folded together over a jam or sweetened-cheese filling.  My idea is to make a cardamom-flavored dough and fill the cookies with an orange-flavored cream cheese.

The test cookie turned out pretty well, but the dough really does need to be chilled overnight before you try to roll it out and bake it.  I decided to fill them with mascarpone cheese that I sweetened with sugar (to taste) and flavored with both grated orange zest and a little orange flower water.*  They make for a little more exotic version of a traditional cookie, so please give it a go, if you feel adventurous!  I should have a cookie update later today or over the weekend.

Anyway, I am sorry for the many delays in posting.  I can’t make any promises, but my hope is to really ramp up in the new year with posts throughout the really wintry months in Chicago.  Until then, I’ll keep posting when I can, even if I am just getting a few pictures and writing a few lines of text.  I hope to keep you entertained!

*Available in Indian food stores and online at our local (excellent) spice merchant, the Spice House (www.thespicehouse.com); be sparing with this ingredient, as it tends to make food taste perfume-y, if you use too much.