Category Archives: Entertaining

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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Pot Roast

When spring-like weather hits in the end of March in Chicago, everyone talks about it with a kind of blissful hopefulness that the winter is finally over.  Wrong.  It always ends up getting cold again and there always seems to be at least a fleeting possibility of snow well into the first few weeks of April.  A warm weather tease is typical for this part of the country, but infuriating, nonetheless.  In an effort to ease the misery of cold, cold winds and grey skies that will inevitably fall up on us again (on a weekend, no doubt), I offer up a suggestion:  Pot Roast.
With any luck there will not be many more opportunities to battle the weather with comfort food, so I highly suggest digging into this one at some point soon.  Like any braised meat, it is a product of time, patience, and a little technique.  Keep in mind the following for this:  sear, saute, season, simmer, (sup).  The fifth “s” is a given, but I believe in the powers of odd numbers.  Because this is mostly a bringing together of ingredients, I’ll just relay what I do in prose, as opposed to a recipe form.

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 (; be sparing with this ingredient, as it tends to make food taste perfume-y, if you use too much.