Whole grain digestive biscuits: a cracker recipe to nibble

I love nibbles.  I could make a meal of little bites of cheeses and spreads. Perhaps a few marinated olives with a glass of wine. Or a cocktail. With whole grains all the rage, I've been looking for new ways to enhance my baked goodies.  These little crackers, called digestive biscuits in England, are great for a cheese course, or just for nibbling before dinner with an aperitif. I make my own oat flour for these, which makes me feel industrious, and saves a trip to the store. I simply whirl some oatmeal in my food processor.  You can just as easily order oat flour from Bob's Red Mill or King Arthur Flour, but if you've got the proper equipment, you can make it to order.  I stop the blades when the oatmeal is coarser that commercial Read more...

Pi Day Vinegar Chess Pie, as if we need an excuse

Imagine my delight some years ago when I learned that March 14, or 3/14 is the day to celebrate the math symbol pi, which of course is the "mathematical constant representing the ratio of a circle's circumference to its diameter." OK, I looked that part up. But I do know that pi is 3.14 and what better invented excuse to enjoy pie on a non-holiday? Actually, Lauro and I are frequent diners at Grange Hall Burger Bar in Chicago's West Loop neighborhood, and they serve spectacular house-baked pies. They even have a punch card, and after you eat there ten times, you take home a whole pie.  A. Whole. Pie. We've enjoyed several, further indicating that we don't need an occasion to enjoy pie, aside from it being Wednesday. And Lauro was Read more...

Seedy soda bread scones for St. Pat’s

Longtime readers of this blog know that I'm not one for green food coloring in my beer. I'm a fan of authenticity, like a nice Smithwick's ale, for instance, when I celebrate St. Patrick's Day. Every year, for this favorite holiday of my Grandpa O'Brien, I serve up Spotted Dog Soda Bread. Or Irish Cheddar Waffles. Or any nibble that celebrates the great baking or dairy or seafood delights of Ireland. This recipe is a riff on a classic soda bread loaf, crossed with Seedy Salt Bread created by Kismet Farm and Bakery in southwest Michigan. Kismet uses poppy seed in its famed sour dough bread, but I've amplified mine with a mix of poppy, caraway and dill seed, mixed with a whisper of fennel seed, because with fennel a little goes Read more...

Recipe: Crunchy orange-scented cornmeal pancakes with strawberry jam topping

The austerity of Lent always comes with a delicious little precursor.  Call it Fat Tuesday, Pancake Day, Shrove Tuesday, what have you - it means a chance to lop up all the butter while you contemplate your upcoming Lenten sacrifice. My father, bless him, gives up alcohol every year.  As I remind myself, he's retired. In past years, I've shared lemon yogurt pancakes with various embellishments, classic crepes with dulce de leche, cottage cheese and oatmeal pancakes with lemon curd, even little silver dollar pancakes with maple walnut drizzle. This year I feel like a little crunch, and these cornmeal pancakes, punched up with orange juice and zest, are just the ticket. And this gives me another opportunity to keep using my summer-bounty Read more...

Simple chocolate truffles for your sweetheart . . . or for you

These little homemade chocolate truffles make my heart sing, if I say so myself. love homemade holidays, and Valentine's Day is no different. It's easy to get distracted by shiny pink heart-shaped boxes, but I whipped up a tiny batch of these hand-rolled temptations to show my affection. Chocolate truffles got their name because they resemble those prized members of the mushroom family.  Thus, looking a little handmade is a plus. And they couldn't be easier. Through Christmastime experimentation, I determined that the two-to-one ration of chocolate chips to cream make for the perfect ganache.  I have a digital kitchen scale that measures all sorts of ways.  In this case the fluid ounce measure comes in handy. So essentially, the Read more...

For a prosperous year: sweet potato, lentil and black-eyed pea hash

On New Year's Day, southerners eat black-eyed peas for good luck. Spanish speaking cultures serve up lentils, because the the little round shapes resemble coins. This year I'm not taking any chances - I'm serving both. And I've added my own spin here by including bright sweet potatoes for a sunny outlook, plus a sunny-side egg because... well, you get it. One can't be too careful about such things, right? I tend to keep cooked legumes ready to serve, and they come in quite handy for dishes like this. Follow the cooking direction on the package. Aside for the good-luck legumes, I imagine you could just toss in whatever delicious vegetables you have on hand, and you'll set your intention for a great year ahead. Sweet potato, Read more...

Templeton Rye Manhattan: a cocktail recipe for warmth

My Uncle Tom was known for mixing a wicked pitcher of Manhattans.  When I was little, we'd pile in the car to spend the weekend with our cousins for the most fun kinds of slumber party. The adults would enjoy cocktails.  After a few, they'd call our grandparents in California.  I remember dancing. It was only later in life that I understood the magic of a good Manhattan, the warmth and joy that such an elixir can bring. I first concocted the idea of a Midwest Manhattan when I was on the road to research Farmers' Markets of the Heartland.  One of the folks I met was Scott Bush, president of Templeton Rye, who was selling whiskey barbecue sauce at the Downtown Des Moines Farmers' Market. He and his business partners replicate Read more...

Christmas morning peppermint shake

Christmas morning is for indulgence - it's just the right thing to do, yes? Every Christmas I make a sweet morning surprise, like last year's panettone French toast, or Maria's marvelous saffron waffles with orange cream. This year I've created the most festive of smoothies ever, but in mini-treat form, a morning shake in a little half pint Mason jar for a one-cup dessert-for-breakfast holiday treat. If you wanted to have this for actual dessert, or as a post-holiday strategy to finish up your candy canes, I'm sure a little vodka would make it extra refreshing. To make the crushed candies, I put some broken pieces into the food processor and give it a few pulses.  You can also put them into a study zipper plastic bag and bash vigorously Read more...

Recipe: Lentil soup with carrots and kale

With brisk weather I feel like a heartwarming soup.  And boy, our weather has turned so frigid that Lauro wonders if he should break out his arctic-ready parka.  I'm not ready for snow just yet, but the chilly weather makes me want to curl up with soup (and a nice mystery book) and this one couldn't be easier to make: a melange of what's in the fridge, with a little vinegar for brightness.  I learned from Stefano - the fantastic restaurateur from Sheboygan - that the perfect way to achieve a robust soup is to puree half, making something like a gravy to thicken the broth. And it's so healthy and light that I feel perfectly entitled to splurge with a drizzle of fruity olive oil to finish it off.  Don't skip this step - the Read more...

Farm lover’s tour of Chicago restaurants

After a heartwarming response to my food tour of southwest Michigan, I thought it would be fun to collect my favorite food places in Chicago. A lot of these good people are featured in Farmers' Markets of the Heartland, or are simple great places to eat - it's the list I share when visitors are looking for recommendations. These spots will get you off Michigan Avenue and rubbing elbows with the locals. For more eating ideas, check out Choose Chicago, Time Out Chicago, Chicago magazine and Local Beet (and visit their beer area). Enjoy, and please add to my list! My neighborhood, Chicago's West Loop Grange Hall Burger Bar for grassfed burgers, deep dish pie, Midwest brews and milkshakes scooped by Alana.  It's our steady Friday night Read more...