Soft & Chewy Salted Caramel

Two years ago, I made my dad caramels for his birthday. They were hard and crunchy, like gold-wrapped Werther’s, the kind that would crack like glass when you bit them. While I’d been after something a little more chewy that time, since that's how Dad likes them most, it turned out candy-making could be something of an art, especially when you were new to it, so all I could muster were those smooth caramel stones, best for placing between your tongue and the roof of your mouth and slowly melting away. I gave them to him, presenting them proudly, and I put my candy thermometer away. But then this year, when Tim and I were up visiting a few months ago, talking to my dad in the kitchen about dinner plans or about something we’d baked, Dad, almost out of nowhere, asked if I’d thought about trying caramels again. Maybe soft and chewy this time? he'd asked, hopefully, like it would really mean something to him if I could. Now I know a lot of people would say their dad is … [Read more...]

Orange Crostatas

I can't believe it was almost a month ago already that I clicked through my Google Reader, the way I do most afternoons, and saw these gorgeous blood orange crostatas. We made them the following weekend, for our weekly Sunday dinner with friends, and had just enough so every person got one crostata, alongside homemade vanilla ice cream. But then what happened? I say I can't believe it was almost a month ago already because, honestly, I don't know where the days have gone between then and now. I mean, I know---into work, into buying furniture, into daytrips to Chattanooga and long weekends like this last one that I spent back home in Chicago for a wedding and to see my family again. But it's just that the time is getting away from me! I'm blogging less, I'm taking fewer pictures (sad fact: I lost my camera charger; good news: a new one is in the mail), I'm looking at the calendar and going, I've lived here for two months? What? So before another month disappears, I guess now … [Read more...]

Accidental Chocolate Trifle

Here is something I've been thinking about for a while now: it seems for the most part that the home cooking world is divided into two camps. You see it when you're a guest in someone's home, you see it on cooking shows and books and blogs, you see it in yourself if you think carefully enough. First, there are those with skills; then, there are those with kindness. Let me explain what I mean---or maybe I'll start with what I don't mean. I don't mean that the cooks with skills aren't kind or that the cooks with kindness aren't skilled. They aren't mutually exclusive. I don't mean that cooking well makes you a snob or that wanting to have a nice dinner party means you're a monster. I think what I just mean is this: There are people who wow you and there are people who love you. And sometimes I wonder which one I'm trying to be. The first group is successful, you know? They are highly organized, on top of things---the kind of people who have you over and you are awed by every … [Read more...]

The Best Pumpkin Bread You’ll Ever Have

Remember what I said before about pumpkin being the kind of fall you could eat? Well, it’s still true---only, OK, listen: this hasn’t just been any fall. This year in Chicago, fall’s gone above and beyond. Literally. Yesterday was the third day in a row where temps soared into the 70s. Yes, you read that right: 70s! In late October! While the trees are already ten shades of orange and red! I went somewhere last night and had to take my sweater off, that’s how warm I was. It’s the kind of thing people talk about wherever you go---church, the grocery store, chatting on the phone---as if, no matter what your feelings or indifference about this crazy gorgeous season that transitions from the long daylight of summer into the snow and frost of winter, one thing remains, at least this year, at least where I live: autumn’s got your attention. I guess the same could be said of many things, from football to TV shows to the pleasure of reading a good book: the die-hard lovers will … [Read more...]

and here we are, with babka

I'm not going to ask where the time went. That's what everyone says, halfway through summer, after the fireworks and before back-to-school, when we're finally settled into the heat and humidity, when our arms are bronzed and our long-daylight days have begun to seem commonplace, when we're looking at the calendar and saying, July 20? July 20! More than halfway through 2010? I am just getting used to it not being 2009! and we think of all the things we still want to do and we think of all the people we want to do them with, and our hearts start to race a little bit. OK, hang on. How about instead of rushing ahead we just stop, right here and now, and take a look at this day, this July 20, this Tuesday we have and will never get again, and appreciate what's brought us here? I'll start. With chocolate babka. … [Read more...]

the sneaky one (sweet potato brownies)

You know what food trend I’ve never fully understood? The one about the hidden vegetables. The puree-something-your-kids-won’t-eat-and-bury-it-in-brownies! Add spinach to chocolate cake! Sneak cauliflower in pasta! Do whatever you can to trick them into eating nutrition! I mean, I think I kind of understand it, or at least the premise of it: if you can add good-for-you foods to what someone normally eats without them noticing, then you get them to eat what they should while also eating what they want. Everybody wins! OK. But the problem is your kids still don’t like vegetables; they like chocolate cake, a chocolate cake that’s lying to them. Maybe I don’t get it because I don’t have kids? You can feel free to tell me what I’m missing. Anyway, that said, you’ll see the irony in the recipe I’m about to give you, for what else but sweet potato brownies. Yes, they’re exactly like those crazy sneaky recipes I don’t understand. Yes, they use a pureed vegetable in the middle of a … [Read more...]

for mid-February

I can't believe I'm saying this, but: I think I like February. I mean, sure, here we are, with 49 out of the 50 states having snow somewhere. And sure, being outside too long still makes my nose run and my ears burn, like it did this weekend, when on Sunday afternoon, every! train! seemed to take five extra freezing-cold minutes to arrive, but listen: it's not all bad. To start, LOST is back. If February brought us LOST, February is good. I don't think I need to say anything more than that. Then there's the light. I realized last week that the days have hit that point where the sky is still light when I walk to my car at 5:30 PM every night. How fantastic is that? No, really. Dwell on this with me: (almost) DAYLIGHT when I begin driving home, the kind that gradually diminishes and colors the sky and only becomes darkness as I'm parking my car again. This means not needing to turn my desk lamp on at work at all if I don't want to. It means being able to see my hands in front … [Read more...]