Caramelized Onion Tart


One of the best savory tarts that I ever had was at Balthazar in New York.  I’ve been tempted over the years to buy the cookbook so I could replicate the recipe. The tart was a lovely caramelized onion/goat cheese mixture served with a light salad.  Now that chilly fall has come upon on us, the leaves are finally changing and those cute little gourds are at the farmer’s market. This weather only seems fitting to whip up a savory tart. The recipe comes from the American Brasserie.  Both authors were originally from a famous Chicago restaurant called Tru.  Sidebar note…Tru actually gives you a velvet baby-like stool for your purse to rest upon while you dine.

A few tips about the tart.  Make sure you have a smaller size tart pan. The standard tart pans like at Bed, Bath & Beyond (or stores like that are usually 13″), you will need one that is 10″.   Sur La Table has them as well as Northwestern Cutlery on Lake Street.  Also, you will need to “blind bake” the pie shell ahead of time.  Roll out your dough into the tart pan, then put it back in the fridge to chill again before you cook it.  I used Trader’s Joe’s premade dough and it worked out great.

Caramelized Onion Tart


1- prebaked pie shell

1 tbsp. olive oil

3 garlic gloves, minced

3 tbs. unsalted butter

4 cups (2lbs)  yellow onion, thinly sliced

2 tsp. all-purpose flour

3 large eggs

2/3 cup heavy cream

1/8 tsp freshly grated nutmeg

1 tsp. finely chopped fresh parsley

1/2 cup freshly grated Gruyere cheese

Salt/Pepper to taste


1) In a skillet, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat.  Reduce the heat to medium, add the garlic, and cook, stirring 2-3 minutes.  Add the butter and swirl it around the pan until it melts, then add the onions.  Reduce the heat to low and cook, uncovered, stirring occasionally, until the onions are soft, golden brown, and caramelized.  (Mine took a little over an hour).  Sprinkle the flour over the onions and cook, stirring, 3 minutes. Set aside to cool at least 20 minutes.  (The recipe can be prepared to this point up to 1 day ahead and refrigerated.

2) Preheat oven to 350 F.

3) In a mixing bowl, whisk together the eggs, cream, nutmeg, and parsley.  Stir in the cooled onions and cheese. Add salt pepper to taste.  Pour into the pie crust.

4) Bake for 25-30 minutes, until the custard is set and the top is golden brown.  Let cool 5 minutes.  (The recipe can be prepared to this point up to 3 days ahead and refrigerated).  Reheat in the oven before serving.

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5 years = 5 special items

It’s hard to believe that 5 years ago I packed up everything and decided to head off to culinary school. With that decision I also started this blog to stay in contact and share all the great food I was experiencing in New York. Over the years this blog morphed into healthy food recipes, a LOT of Chicago restaurants and a few odds and ends. So on this anniversary, I thought I would throw out the top five food-related things that happened this year to bring a smile to my face.

First up is a bellini at Boscolo Exedra Hotel in Rome. It was the last night in Rome and a toast was had in honor of James Gandolfini passing away.  The peach puree was as fresh as any I have had and mixed in with some wonderful Proseco – Delicious!!  The entire evening was nostalgic and memorable.


Coffee…I was off the caffeine for a very long time and it wasn’t until I tried this coffee that I started back drinking a cup or two of it a day.  Yes, full snobbery is had with purchasing it online.  I can honestly say every time I take that first sip in the morning it makes the day just a little bit brighter.  The coffee beans are roasted over a wood fire, the old fashion way.  By far, this is the best cup of Joe out there!


I am always on the hunt for an interesting cookbook and nothing really seemed to stand out this year for me.  However, when I did come across this children’s book, it made me laugh so hard like no other book has.  And really, I didn’t even know this author had the same last name, nor did I realize he lives in Chicago…but it does make it that more special.


Crème di Melicello was written up in the Oak Park Sun Times!!!!!!


Lobsters, lobsters, lobsters.  $2.99 lb.  For an e-n-t-i-r-e month.  Nothing but melted butter and lemon on them.  Enough said.


(Picture 1-4 are from Google Images)

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Melanzana Affogate “Suffocated Eggplant”



I heard while visiting Rome that this was a city to be walked and explored.  No plans made, no sights to visit…just walk.  So for four days that is what I did.  I walked myself every night (and a few afternoons) to the best gelato shop. (Gelateria del Teatro)  During the ‘blue hour’ of the night this twinkling sign always caught my eye.  When I decided to stop in for lunch there was melanzana (eggplant) on the menu….Tortio di melanzane alla parmigiane.  A simple but delicious pasta made with tomatoes, eggplant, and cheese.

Eggplant is in season right now back in the States, so I picked up a beauty last week at the farmer’s market and started researching recipes to duplicate what I had in Italy.  The only recipe I could find that was similar to what I had was one by Lidia Bastianich.   The recipe was quite large…3 quarts total.  I ended up doing some tweaking as I didn’t have the huge quantities of tomatoes and eggplants she required for the recipe.   The eggplant ends up ‘melting’ into the sauce and overall the dish was spicy.  Just the way I like it!


15 oz of  tomato sauce + 3 small tomatoes seeded and chopped

1 medium eggplant

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil

1 1/2 cups onions, finely chopped

1/3 cup garlic, finely chopped

1/2 teaspoons salt, plus more to taste

½ teaspoon dried peperoncino, or to taste

1 tsp. dried basil

2 cup H2O

Trim and peel the eggplant. Cut it lengthwise in 3/4-inch wide slices, stack the slices and cut them into 3/4-inch wide strips, then chop into 3/4-inch chunks.
Stir together the oil, the onions and 1/4 teaspoon salt in the saucepan. Cook for 5 or 6 minutes, add the garlic and let it caramelize it in a hot spot, then stir in a couple tablespoons of water and cook the onions and garlic together for a minute or two.
Now pour the eggplant pieces into the pan, sprinkle on salt, and turn to coat the pieces with the oil and sautéed onion and garlic. Cook over low-medium heat, uncovered, stirring and turning the eggplant frequently. If the pan gets dry and the pieces start to brown, stir in several spoons of water; lower the heat if needed.
Cook for 12 to 15 minutes or until the eggplant chunks are very soft, almost mushy, but still retain their shape. Pour in the prepared tomato sauce, and tomatoes, rinse the tomato can with 2 cups of water and pour it into the pan (the eggplant needs the additional liquid). Sprinkle on the remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt, pepperoncino, and basil. Stir to blend everything together. Cover the pan and raise the heat to medium.
When the sauce reaches the boil, lower the heat to keep an active simmer and cook, covered, for 40 minutes or so. The eggplant should now be broken down and melting into the tomatoes.
Uncover the pan and let the sauce bubble gently and gradually reduce. Stir carefully as it thickens, to make sure the eggplant doesn’t stick to the pan bottom, lower the heat if necessary. Cook uncovered for a total of 45 minutes to an hour, until the sauce has the consistency you like, and then turn off the heat. Store in the refrigerator for about a week, or in the freezer, in a properly filled and sealed container, through the winter.

Photo was used from

Original recipe is here.


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Key Lime Pie

keylimesThere comes a time in your life when you say, “It’s been how many years and I haven’t made what???”  That’s what I felt like when I made my first Key Lime Pie this week.  I saw a bag of key limes at Whole Foods and thought why not.  Not to mention it is a favorite pie of my BF’s.

I figured a little bit of history of the key lime was in order and did some research as well.  Usually we see key limes as green, but they are truly ripe when they are yellow in color. Key limes differ slightly than a regular lime in that there is a higher acidity to the juice and about half the size.  I wasn’t able to find out how much more acidic they were but can contest to it by personally trying the juice.

Key limes grow year round, but are prevalent between May – September. They are originally from Southwest Asia. You can now find them in Mexico, Central America, Texas, California and of course the Florida Keys.  A full-grown tree takes about 10 years to cultivate.  From blossom to fruit you are looking at 9 months before you can pick them.

So where did key lime pie originate?  The first ‘recorded’ key lime pie was in the 19th century in Key West, Florida. William (oddly again that is my boyfriend’s first name) Curry…the first millionaire of the Keywest had a cook named ‘Aunt Sally’ who made him key lime pies.  Most people think key lime pies were used by the sponge fisherman before Mr. Curry came along.  When condensed milk and acidic juice mix together they will naturally thicken on their own.  Back in the day eggs, limes, and condensed milk didn’t need refrigeration, so more than likely this fisherman were eating these ingredients.

One last fun fact about the key lime pie…it was officially named the ‘State Pie of Florida” in 2006.  That got me thinking…does Illinois have a state pie??? No, but we do have a state snack…any guesses????  Drumroll….POPCORN!  Is it any wonder that Garrett’s is so popular?  We may not have key lime pie in our back pockets but we do have being the home of the Oreo cookie, the first McDonald’s and the first Dairy Queen.

This recipe has been adapted from Emeril’s original one.  Enjoy!



  • 1 1/2 cups graham cracker crumbs
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 4 tablespoons (1/2 stick butter) melted
  • 2 (14-ounce) cans sweetened condensed milk
  • 1 cup key lime juice
  • 2 whole large eggs
  • 1 cup sour cream
  • 4 tablespoons powdered sugar
  • 1 tablespoon lime zest


Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.

In a bowl, mix the graham cracker crumbs, sugar, and butter with your hands. Press the mixture firmly into a 9-inch pie pan, and bake until brown, about 10 minutes. Remove from the oven and allow to cool to room temperature before filling.

Lower the oven temperature to 325 degrees F.

In a separate bowl, combine the condensed milk, lime juice, and eggs. Whisk until well blended and place the filling in the cooled pie shell. Bake in the oven for 20-25 minutes and allow to chill in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours.

Once chilled, combine the sour cream and powdered sugar and spread over the top of the pie using a spatula. Sprinkle the lime zest as a garnish on top of the sour cream and serve chilled.

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Cookbook Releases

I remember the first time I walked into Kitchen Arts & Letters in New York.  13,000 cookbooks all housed in one cozy shop.  It was the dead of winter and I hopped on the #6 line all the way up to Lexington & 96th.  One of the teachers at my culinary school had mentioned the store to us.  So the imagine of not only books, but all of the books focused on cooking/food almost made me start skipping when the train doors opened.

I miss that store and have always thought what a great business idea they had.  Being NY, they seem to always get some great authors to come in and do book signings.  I’ve been on this kick recently collecting/attending book signings and it seems like a plethora of cookbooks are being released for the holidays.  Sometimes I toss around that idea of getting a wish granted..’who dead or alive would you have over for dinner.’  Jane Austen for sure…I mean come on…Mr. Darcy…which one did she really imagine??

And the other person would be Thomas Keller.  I could kick myself in the butt for not buying his cookbook at The French Laundry and having him sign it.  My mother and I walked past the kitchen and he was sitting there so casually talking to his staff; surely he had time to sign a book? No?

Okay, head out of the clouds…all has not been lost.  Thomas Keller released his newest cookbook just this past week called Bouchon Bakery and I was able to order it signed!

This is a whopper of a cookbook. 399 glorious pages from everything you can imagine; cookies to breads to donuts. The pictures are beautiful and totally drool worthy.  I don’t even know what to try first, but aiming for the TKO cookies. ( That stands for Thomas Keller Oreos).  Chocolate shortbread with white chocolate piped icing.  Croissants are on my list (supervised that is).  I can see now having looked over the recipe why I love them so much.  Yeah it calls for a ‘butter block.’   I snagged this picture from Michael Ruhlman’s blog.

Next on the list was Eric Lanlard’s Tart It Up! This guy’s story is fantastic.  He grew up in France, wanting to be a pastry chef early on in life.  He ended up working in some fantastic establishments and now owns a cake shop in London.  He even made Madonna’s cake for her wedding.  The beginning of the book covers six types of pastries. What I like most about them is he mixes the dough by hand, not machine. He opens his book up with a bang having made a Spring garden green tart with peas, asparagus, and Parmesan cheese. The book covers sweet and savory tarts.  And as all French do with their pastries, each one looks beautiful.

The third book that kept me up for hours reading was Ina Garten’s new book Fool Proof.  Speaking of wishes, I wish I could spend a few days cooking with her.  Her books are so approachable and I have never made anything of hers that has wasn’t repeated often in my kitchen.

She gives a list in the back of the book of preset menus for all kinds of occasions.  Her methodology of putting a dinner on table with all ingredients warm and not missing out on your own dinner party is worth it alone to purchase this book.  Some of the firsts I want to try are the jalapeno cheddar crackers, lobster corn fritters, 1770 meatloaf with garlic sauce, 4-hour lamb, and salted caramel brownies.

Looking forward to a Thanksgiving meal worthy to remember. Happy Holiday!

*All pictures used from Google images*


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Nigella’s Spiced Nuts

Twelve years ago I found myself living back in Florida in a small apartment complex located behind a delicious Italian restaurant called Ivarone’s.  The fantastic smells coming from that place along with a quick jaunt from La Pelota for a mug of steamy Cuban coffee brings back some good comforting food memories.  I happened to find myself home sick one day, curled up on the couch, and flipping through channels.  The BBC channel popped up and I came upon Nigella Bites.  That was back in the days when Food Network was just starting out and Rachel Ray was IT.  I remember Nigella having this ultra-cool vibe; cooking seemed so easy for her.  Nigella Bites was based in London and filmed in her apartment.  I was a major rebel back in those days and loved the fact that she was an atheist, wore fur, and   never went to a culinary school.  A New York Times commentator once wrote of her, “Lawson’s sexy roundness mixed with her speed-demon technique makes cooking dinner with Nigella look like a prelude to an orgy.”  I wouldn’t take it that far, but then again I’m not a man.

However, she did make you feel like you could come over to her house at anytime and enjoy a great meal that took her little effort and little time to make.  It was that show back in 2000 that Nigella made two recipes that are still staples that I  make twelve years later.   One is her chicken/sage/onion recipe.  So incredibly easy.. put all the ingredients in a Ziplock bag, marinate over night and dump into a pan to bake the next day.  Onion, chicken, sage, lemon, sausage…heaven on a cold winter’s night.

The second recipe that I make is her Spiced Nuts.  Whenever I have put these out for a party, I can honestly say they are always, always eaten up.  Two weeks ago a friend asked if she could take some home with her before she left. People make a point not to share their own personal stash of these nuts. Over the years I have used a variety of nuts, but always seem to enjoy the mixture of almonds, peanuts, and cashews.  You want to look for the unsalted, skin-less nuts, no mater what ones you end up using.  One major lesson that I have learned is to not walk away from the nuts when they are toasting in the oven….because once you smell then, they are usually burnt by then.

Nigella’s Spiced Nuts


2 1/4 cup skinless, unsalted nuts

2 tsp. brown sugar

2 tbs. rosemary; finally minced

1/2 tsp. cayenne

1 tbs. melted butter.


1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees

2. Place nuts on a cookie sheet. Toast until slightly brown, approximately 10 minutes.

3. Toss nut with melted butter and spice mixture.

4.  Let cool. Be sure to hide a small bowl for yourself to enjoy later.

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Portobello Mousse with Cherry/Fennel Compote


One of my favorite dishes at Dirt Candy is the Portobello Mousse.  So when Amanda’s cookbook came out, I was super excited to see she had included the recipe.  The dinner party I had was for four, so the original recipe has been cut in half.

Sur La Table carries these cute little Italian canning jars that the mousse fit perfectly in.

Agar Agar is a ‘natural’ gelatin made from seaweed and comes in a powdered form.  You can order a small jar from here.

Thanks Amanda….I can have a little piece of New York in my home now!

Cherries and Fennel Compote:

½ cup diced fennel

2 cups unripe pears, peeled, seeded, and cut into ½-inch pieces 

2 tablespoons honey

1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar

½ tablespoon ground fennel

2 tablespoons chopped crystallized ginger

¼ cup chopped soaked dried sour cherries

Pinch of salt

Soak the cherries and crystallized ginger in 1 cup hot water until soft, about 30 minutes.  Drain and finely chop.

Sweat  (dry pan/ low heat) the fennel in a saucepan until it’s soft but not mushy, approximately 10 to 15 minutes. Add the pears and cook until partially soft. Add the honey, cider vinegar, fennel, ginger, and cherries; season with salt. Cook for an additional 10 minutes, or until everything is soft.

Portobello Mousse:

½ cup (1 stick) butter

1/8 cup finely chopped white onions

¼ cup heavy cream

3 cups chopped Portobello mushrooms ( about 3 large Portobello)

3/4 teaspoon + 1/8 teaspoon agar agar

1/4 teaspoons salt

1/4 teaspoon truffle oil

Remove and discard the stems from the mushrooms, then scrape the gills from the underside of the caps.

Melt 1 tablespoons of the butter in a small sauce pan over medium heat. Add the onions and cook until very soft.Add the cream, reduce the heat to low, and cook for 10 minutes. Add the remaining butter and cook over low heat for 10 minutes.

Add the agar agar, stir gently, and let come to a simmer.  Immediately remove from the heat and pour into a blender.

Add the mushrooms to a blender and blend until extremely smooth.  Add the salt and truffle oil and blend until incorporated.

Pour the mousse into any mold or small jar.  Refrigerate for at least 1 hour.


Truffled Toast:

¼ cup olive oil

½ tablespoon truffle oil

½ baguette, thinly sliced

For the Truffled Toast: 
Mix the olive oil and truffle oil and brush on each slice of baguette. Grill each piece of baguette until grill marks show and the bread is crisp.

For the Balsamic Reduction:

1½ cups of Balsamic Vinegar

Cook the balsamic vinegar over low heat until it’s reduced to 1/3 cup.

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4 year Anniversary of Mindful Meals

Wow! I can’t believe it was four years ago that I started this blog.  It seems like yesterday I rented out my condo, sold my car, and headed off to New York.  If nothing else came from that experience, I think everyone should follow their dreams.  Living in NY/NJ for almost 6+ months was one of the best times ever. The friends I made, invaluable knife skills from Chef Barb at cooking school, and experiencing New York on a daily basis was beyond a girl’s dreams.  And to boot, cross-country manuevers of over 2900 miles to finally get a remarkable internship at Dirt Candy.  I still remember sitting on a couch in Williamsburg (Brooklyn) feeling so lost while reading a card from my Mom telling me to never stop reaching for my dreams. So much has happened in the last four year…I started a website cooking with kids, made my own liquor (and still dreaming about selling it), and moved to the best city ever…Chicago.  I have never looked back on my decision to leave the ‘safety net’ of life.  Thank you to all the great people who went along with me on this journey.  Your kindness,  love and support will never be forgotten.

However, the bigger question is what to make to celebrate this four-year event.  Something new?  Something big? Have a party?  No…it was looking back on the past few years and asking myself what brought me happy memories and I went right back to being 14.  Crazy I know, but whatever.

My Mom might not know this, but it was taco night on the weekends when we were young.  I remember her getting out the cast iron skillet and frying up flour tortillas.  We had chopped tomatoes, shredded cheddar cheese, and sour cream. The old silver electric skillet would be plugged in and turned to ‘high.’  She would brown the ground beef and add in Ortega taco seasoning mix.  I could eat those tacos all night long.

I decided to have ‘taco’ night. Homemade guacamole, homemade seasoning for the meat, and now that I was older a few Coronas!  The taco seasoning mix was from Alton Brown and the guacamole was from a recipe book  my grandma gave me a long time ago.  (Sorry I can’t give credit to the rightful owner..seems I ripped it out of a book).  It was all delicious and have been enjoying the leftovers for days now.  But know this Mom, your tacos are still the best..or maybe it was just you and I in the kitchen cooking together.

Guacamole fixings.  I swear the secret ingredient is cilantro!

Alton Brown’s spice mix for 2 lbs. of ground beef.

The moment before eating!


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Stuffed Cherry Peppers



Peppers are in season right now and there is an abundance of them at the farmer’s market.  I saw these hot cherry peppers and remembered Easter at my Mom’s house last year.  She found a delicious recipe in one of Lidia’s Italian cookbooks using pickled cherry peppers.  We had never seen these before, nor tried them.  After a few attempts trying to figure out how to stuff them via YouTube, we came upon one video that still makes me laugh.  There was this Italian guy (typical accent to go along) demonstrating how to stuff the peppers, but intermittently he would throw in a scene of his motorcycle with a loud revving of the engine and go back to stuffing the peppers.

The pickling of the peppers is a no brainer.  I used this recipe from Martha Stewart’s website. If you can’t find the peppers, Italian markets carry the hot or sweet peppers already pickled.


Here is the recipe…super fast, super easy and one that will surely be on my next antipasto platter.




Bottled hot cherry peppers
imported provolone, in one piece
prosciutto, thinly sliced



Cut out the stems and scrape out the seeds from the cherry peppers. Cut pieces of provolone that will fit comfortably into the cherry peppers. Wrap each piece of provolone in a single layer of prosciutto, then place the prosciutto-wrapped provolone pieces into the peppers. Either serve them as is, or place them in an empty jar and pour enough of the liquid from the jar of cherry peppers to come within an inch of the top of the jar. Pour in olive oil to fill. Cover the jar tightly and store in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.

Recipe from here.  Last photo from Amazon.


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Belly Q

Chef Bill Kim has finally opened a restaurant near my house and I couldn’t be more excited.  I first tried his Korean noodle and dumpling restaurant Urban Belly awhile back.  I remember it was the dead of winter, freezing out, and all I wanted was a huge bowl of ramen noodles.  Not only did I get that, but I got duck dumplings, and homemade kimchi. Later that winter I went to Kim’s other restaurant Belly Shack. With eight items on the menu, the BBQ Beef was the only way to go.  His cooking is a blend of Korean and Puerto Rican (his wife).


Then along came Belly Q – a modern Asian BBQ restaurant in the old OneSixtyBlue building right off the Ashland stop. Oh sweet Jesus.  First the place is beautiful. I love the minimal decor, wharehouse-like vibe, with an open kitchen.  The menu, let’s just say I couldn’t decide…literally couldn’t decide. There was gun powder smoked duck, lamb, beef…then noodle salads, then..sides.  And what about that olive oil poached shrimp???  After my friend Carol and I drooled for a while over the menus we decided to split a few things.  First up was the soba noodle salad with the shrimp.  I think by the second bite I had my Sharpie out and was quizzing the waiter about the dressing.  Oh, and the olive oil poached shrimp is definitely the way to go.  Then we got the smoked duck.  It was served on top of a bed of Chinese broccoli with small steamed buns.  There was a trio of sauces, but the hot sauce knocked it out of the park.  After a little research, I found out he bottles that stuff and sells it at his other restaurant. YEAH!

The best was last up…dessert.  It was Vietnamese coffee slush on the bottom, topped with young Thai coconut ice cream, then topped with tapioca heaven balls, and a perfect drizzle of salted caramel.  Could dinner ever be better than that??  Belly Q, be there or be talked about.  I plan on trying everything.



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