Make it All Better

June 23, 2008

You know the crispy bits around the edges of a pan of brownies? The ones that have buckled from the heat of the oven? The ones that practically disintegrate in your mouth when you take a nibble? If you like those bits, you will adore these biscotti. They’re similar to the brownie bits in their crunch and deep chocolatey flavor, but they’re also studded with dark chocolate chips and slivered almonds.

I’ve dabbled with a variety of biscotti recipes: some stripped down and simple, some featuring dried fruit, some savory. But I’d never tried a chocolate recipe. I blame the double chocolate cookies of a couple weeks back for nudging me into trying this one.

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This is the kind of salad that is at all times on the brink of losing its status as a salad. It’s the kind of salad that has a 1:1 ratio of virtuous vegetables to decadent elements. It’s the kind of salad that allows you to couple each bite of lettuce or carrots or celery with crisp bacon or creamy avocado or pungent, smooth blue cheese. It’s the kind of salad you can order in a bar.

Which is fitting, because we ate this salad on our deck. And, lately, our deck is my favorite bar in Chicago. In the past couple weeks, we have had countless opportunities for cocktails up there at sunset, usually followed by a lingering dinner as the lights in the tall buildings downtown start to twinkle (if we can’t have stars, at least we have this), conversations meandering and laughter rising and falling.

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I made this ice cream—a cherry gelato, speckled with bits of pureed bing cherries and softly scented with almond extract—on Sunday night. I made it to serve for dessert with some friends on Monday night, but it really tasted best right out of the ice cream maker, when its texture was at its lushest and flavors at their brightest. It got a little icy and grainy in the freezer, which made me a little sad, but our guests were generous about it on Monday (nudged along, I have a hunch, by the chocolately treat I served with the gelato: stay tuned).

By Tuesday, the last bits of gelato had gone even further south, but my sister, Kevin and I had some anyway, as we alternately watched the NBA finals and the Cubs game. I thought my sister, who is not a big cherry fan (which, to me, is akin to lunacy, but—hey—she’s family), was being polite as she slurped thoughtfully through her bowl. A couple bites in, she looked over at me and said,”Do you know who this reminds me of?” As a spoonful of the gelato melted on my tongue, I knew exactly who she meant: Grandpa. And we both had a good smile thinking about a man we both adore, and the fruit-flecked pink ice cream (usually strawberry, but we were close enough) that he adores. Is there anything better than a broad-shouldered man who is more than six feet tall cradling a bowl full of pink ice cream in his truly enormous paws? I think not.

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Wild and Crazy Crisp

June 18, 2008

Crisps were one of the first things I wanted to make when I first started to cook and bake. My first crisp unfolded much like all my other early cooking excursions: I’d be hit with an idea (pesto! lasagna! banana bread!) and would have to make it as soon as humanly possible. These excursions usually involved a mid-grocery store cell phone call to my mom, who would get as excited as I was and patiently dictate her recipes to me.

I got the brilliant idea to make a crisp for the first time a couple falls ago, when Kevin and I were driving home from an orchard in Virginia, where we’d wandered through the rows of squat apple trees, plucking a peck of apples. My mom walked me through the method: butter, oats, walnuts, brown sugar, cinnamon and lemon juice. And don’t forget the salt. I probably don’t have to tell you that I was in autumnal heaven shortly thereafter, pulling a bubbling dish of softened baked apples, topped with a rustic, undulating lid of sweet, buttery oats.

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In both the cities I’ve lived in since growing up in Minnesota—Chicago and Washington, DC—I’ve been forced to grow accustomed to days that are an ungodly kind of hot. Days where the digital displays outside banks flash temperatures that begin with nines or even sometimes climb into triple digits. On these days, I cannot be bothered to wear much more than a gauzy, swishy sun dress and I refuse all shoes that don’t flip and flop. I’ve also been known to ban all physical contact, even though I’m generally an avid hand-in-hand stroller. And as if this isn’t all bad enough, these days even make me lose my appetite, which is truly a hold-the-presses type of occurrence.

Okay, so I don’t lose my appetite completely. But my palate undergoes a serious reduction and my desire to cook nearly evaporates. On such days, it’s not uncommon to find me standing in front of the open refrigerator or freezer, basking in the icy emanations and also pawing around for a bite of ice cream or crisp slices of cucumbers or a bite-sized cherry tomato that will cooly burst in my mouth.

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