Saturday, December 28, 2013

Happy New Year!

Darling Chickens-

Can you believe its been another year?  So so fast, and yet, for parts of it, not nearly fast enough, as tends to be the problem with years in general.

2013 was good in many ways.

This happened:

 And if you haven't gotten your copy yet, it would make me the happiest girl in the world if you did.

 And if you did get your copy, and liked it, recommending it to friends and family, buying a second copy as a gift, posting it on your blog or twitter or facebook or Pinterest, choosing it for your book club, writing a review on Amazon...this will not only make me the happiest girl in the world it will keep me employed.

Also in 2013 this happened:

Which is frankly the second best single thing to happen to my life after this:

In other bits of 2013 fabulous, I gained a brother, two nephews, and a niece, all of them supremely awesome in ways too numerous to mention.  If I had designed them myself from scratch I couldn't have done any better, and they are, to a one, a tremendous addition to the family.  

Also I acquired a spectacular sister-in-law-by-choice, since my brother from another mother Officer K managed to convince a smart, gorgeous, funny girl to be his Missus, and to be the last piece in the puzzle our gang had been missing.

This started to happen:

Which is noisy and expensive and terribly thrilling.

And finally, to put the cherry on top, I just signed for two more books AND a digital cookbook, so I get to keep doing what I do, thanks to you all for that!  (please refer back to the top for ways to buy Out to Lunch so that they don't regret that decision, if you don't mind, please, and thank you very much!)

We will be ringing in 2014 with a very small group of dear friends.  In a perfect piece of happenstance, it will include one couple that have been with Charming Suitor for decades who have now become two of my favorite people, one couple that have been with me for ages and are now near and dear to his heart as well.  One couple of much beloved friends of CS who I've never met, who have recently moved back to Chicago, and I'm eager to match faces with the warm and funny stories I've heard over the years.  And a possible drop-in from one of our besties who lives in NY but happens to be in town for the winter, and who we can never get enough of.

We're going retro for the meal, replicating many of the details I remember my from my childhood, when my parents loved to host New Year's Eve.  The funny thing is that their menu was also nostalgic from their own childhood, so our menu is essentially 1950s by way of the 1970s!

We're doing oysters and shrimp, sweet and sour meatballs and pigs in blankets to start.  (I may or may not break down and get some port wine cheese spread, it is so dangerous, but I do have a craving...)

Salads of crisply chilled iceberg wedges with homemade thousand island dressing.  A prime rib of beef so enormous Fred Flintstone may wander by.  Twice baked potatoes, classic creamed spinach.  And tomato pudding.

No you didn't read that wrong.  Tomato.  Pudding.

Nora Ephron, a loss I took very personally this year, said that when she entertained, she never did the traditional 3 on a plate parties, one protein, one starch, one veg.  She always served four things.  The fourth thing was important to her, and equally important that it be whimsical or surprising in some way.  Unexpected.  Fun.  A bonus.  I love this premise.  It promises abundance, and smiles, and gives me an excuse to make one more thing, which you all know isn't exactly a burden.

When we were looking at the menu, I needed that fourth thing.  It had to be of the era.  Something almost silly, but still delicious.  And very unexpected.  And frankly, it needed to have a little acid in it to help balance the rest of the rich dishes.  Tomato pudding was a natural.

When I was little it often appeared on holiday buffets.  It's dead easy, you probably have the ingredients lying around.  You can make it three days ahead and reheat it, and it tastes even better when you do.  it is sweet and savory, deeply tomato-y, with a soothing nursery food quality.  And leftovers are quite yummy with an egg or two and some crispy bacon in the morning.

I thank each and every one of you for sharing this year with me, and look forward to what the next one brings.  I hope however and with whomever you celebrate, you do it with joy and abandon and abundance.  I hope what lies ahead for all of us is delicious, literally and figuratively.  

And if you get a chance, try the tomato pudding.

Tomato Pudding
Serves 6 (you can double this recipe easily for a crowd, just bake in a 9x11 inch dish instead)

2 cups dried bread cubes, crusts removed (use good bread, white or wheat doesn't matter)
1 stick melted butter
1 c brown sugar (loosely scooped, not packed here, or it will be too sweet)
½ c tomato paste
½ c tomato puree
¼  cup orange juice

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Put the dried bread cubes in a 8 inch square or round casserole dish. Pour melted butter over them; toss to combine.  Combine brown sugar, tomato puree, orange juice in a saucepan. Heat to a boil; reduce heat to a simmer. Cook 5 minutes.  Taste for seasoning and add salt and pepper to taste.

Pour hot mixture over bread cubes. Bake until puffy and the corners of the bread cubes are browned, 35-40 minutes.

And if you have a surprising or fun bonus dish of your own, be sure to share!

Yours in Good Taste,
The Polymath

Tuesday, December 17, 2013



I hope you have been enjoying this festive season as much as I have!  Things have been very busy, with the launch of my new book...

Did you get your copy yet?  Not to worry, they've printed plenty!  You can pick it up HERE.

Want to come see me and get a book signed and hear me speak?  There are some fun opportunities coming up.  I'll be at The Standard Club in Chicago on January 15, you can get tickets HERE.

On January 16th I'll be in the greater Milwaukee area at the Boelter Superstore at 4200 N. Port Washington Rd in Glendale at 6pm.  This event is free and I will be recommending some of my favorite cooking utensils and supplies, all of which will be available there along with my books.

In other news, things here at the house are progressing apace.  Have I mentioned that it is loud?  No?  IT IS FREAKING LOUD UP IN HERE.  At this very moment, stonemasons are right below me with grinders, tuckpointing away on the stone and brickwork.  On the one hand, we are so excited that we will be able to leave the stone and brick exposed, it was done with true artistry, and will provide some actual architectural interest in the basement, which could have been very generic and bland without it.  On the other hand, I AM TRYING TO WORK AND ITS SO DAMN LOUD!

Sorry.  It makes me all shouty.

But this happened:

In case you were curious, no there was not originally a hole in the back wall through which to pour cement.  And there is not one now.  Apparently there is some kind of Harry Potter track 9 3/4 that only our contractor can see.  But it was useful, because this needed to happen:

And this:

Here is what they are doing right now:

See all those spaces that are now between the stones?  All the old mortar is gone, any loose or broken stones and bricks are replaced, the walls are all cleaned and then they will be getting a limewash and linseed oil treatment to help seal them up.

They are also continuing to work on the ducting for the new HVAC system, and we are hoping upon hope that they get it finished soon.  For many reasons.  The old steam radiators are hissing and clanking away.  The holes they cut in the floors for the new registers are not currently attached to anything, so all the chill from the now gutted basement, with its damp dirt floor and wide open spaces, is now entering our apartment willy nilly.  My feet are like icicles despite socks and slippers, we've got the space heaters blasted at us, and are wearing only slightly fewer layers than I wore to the Bears game last week.  You know, the one OUTSIDE in 10 degree below zero windchill?

But we are getting closer and closer every day, and it is terribly exciting.  Permit applications have been submitted for the next phase of the project, and we are actually beginning to think about fixtures and finishes.  You know what is more fun than you would imagine?  Going to a showroom to lie about fully clothed in empty bathtubs with your boots on.  Seriously.  You should try it sometime.  And I'm currently more excited about toilets than I ever thought I could be.  One word.  TOTO.  Seriously.  Gamechanging toilets.  LIFEchanging toilets.  All this girl has to say is: Double. Cyclone. Flushing.  More on toilets later.

All in all things are smooth, if noisy, and every day brings some change that is noticeable.

I'm also hard at work finishing my next book, Recipe for Disaster, which will be out next year at this time.

And the best holiday gift I could hope for?  My publisher just gave me a new contract for two more books, so there is much more to come!

I just want to take a moment to wish you and yours a very festive holiday season, and a truly joyous, happy and healthy 2014.  Thank you all for being on this journey with me!

How cute is our tree???

Yours in Good Taste,
The Polymath

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Thank you!

On this, the publication day for my seventh novel, Out to Lunch, I want to take a moment to thank a very special group of people...independent booksellers. These amazing people who commit themselves to the promotion of the written word and the support of authors local and national are a treasure beyond price. For many of us, it is the work of these individuals, who hand-sell our books and recommend us to their clientele, who stay open late to host us for readings and signings, that makes the difference in continuing to be a published author. Owning an independent bookstore is a labor of love, but it is a labor. It is, like any small business, long hours and fluctuating income, and often being on the brink of disaster. These people are my heroes. Because they do what they do to keep the printed word relevant, to keep the youngest among us excited about language and stories. To create opportunities for us to meet our readers who we adore. I salute every one of them, and will continue to support them in any way that I can, and in this festive season of giving, I hope that you will go to your local independent bookseller to give the gifts of stories to those on your list. With books, you literally can give someone the world, and shopping local and small you can keep our communities vibrant. I am going to celebrate my publication day by going to support a fellow writer, the incomparable Joshilyn Jackson at her signing tonight at one of Chicagoland's best indies, Anderson's Bookstore in Naperville. Next week, I will officially launch Out to Lunch at The Book Cellar in Lincoln Square. And I will be shopping at both of those as well as my neighborhood treasure City Lit Books for my holiday gifting. Thank you one and all for your happy wishes on my publication day. now go forth and shop local and independent!

Monday, November 25, 2013

Turkey Tettrazini

Another recipe request, this one from Susan!  My favorite leftovers casserole recipe, and an old family standby.  Maybe the only casserole with canned soup that I actually make and love!

Turkey Tettrazini

3 c cooked turkey, cubed (may substitute chicken)
1 lb linguini, cooked
2 cans condensed cream of chicken soup
1 c sour cream
¼ c grated parmesan cheese
¼ c sherry
1 t celery salt
½ c bread crumbs
4 T butter, melted

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Whisk together soup, sour cream, cheese, sherry, and celery salt.  Pour over noodles and turkey and mix until all noodles are coated and turkey is mixed throughout.  Pour into buttered 9X13 pan.  Sprinkle bread crumbs evenly over top, and drizzle with butter.  Bake 30-40 minutes until top is golden brown. 

Emergency Ham Recipe


I'm live-tweeting my Thanksgiving prep over on Twitter +Stacey Ballis , and taking questions...

So. Freaking. Delicious
My tweep Cris asked for a ham recipe, and here is my fave.  Perfect for Thanksgiving if you need a second protein, but also delish for Xmas or Easter.

Glazed Ham

Remove the skin from your smoked ham, leaving about ¼ to ½ inch of fat.  Score the fat in a diamond pattern, trying not to cut into the meat.   Preheat oven to 350, and line a baking pan with foil or use a disposable foil pan.  Place 1 c of water in the bottom of the pan.

In a food processor, put:

6 garlic cloves
8 oz mango chutney
1 oz ginger jam (if you can’t find it, mix 1 T fresh grated ginger into 2 T orange marmalade or apricot jam)
1/2 cup Dijon mustard
1 cup packed light brown sugar
Zest of one orange
1/4 cup freshly squeezed orange juice
¼ t fresh grated mace (you can sub nutmeg)
pinch red pepper flakes (opt.)

Pulse till well mixed. 

Coat the ham with the glaze and bake until the meat is heated through.

Come join me over on Twitter, its a three day prep party!

Yours in Good Taste,

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Twitter: Its a Good Thing


I know that many of you may not be on Twitter.  Lord knows I avoided it for the longest.  But I am there, and wanted to let you know that beginning Monday morning I will be Live-Tweeting my Thanksgiving prep, the good, the bad, the ugly and the burnt-and-started-over.  And since many of you will be at work with your brain out of commission just counting hours till Wednesday when they send you home to rock a long weekend, I thought you might want to tune in!

Might be worth signing up if you haven't already, and/or following me if you don't currently.


And it goes without saying that even though I will be giving the other social media outlets a little more love for the sake of time, I am always deeply thankful for all of you!

Yours in Good Taste,
Thanksgiving Polymath

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Getting Ready for Thankfulness!

Well Chickens, its almost that time.  Your Polymath is in full pre-Thanksgiving prep mode and loving every minute of it!  In spite of my passion for the holiday, circumstances the past few years have prevented me from hosting, and as a result it has been 3 years since I got my Thanksgiving On!

For starters, as always, I want to tell you early and often how thankful I am for you.  I so appreciate that you are here, reading, commenting, and supporting me and my work.  And I hope that you will continue to hang out with me here, and at all the other relevant social media spots...  in case you aren't already, here is where to follow me on Twitter ,  Facebook ,  Pinterest , Google+  and my official website for upcoming events and information.

I also want to remind you that I'm enormously thankful for your pre-ordering my new book!

It will be released December 3, and is a lovely gift for the holidays.  There are over 40 pages of amazing recipes in the back, so even when the story is done, the delicious can last forever.

The other good news is that I'm back on Turkey Day duty, and it is much like riding a bike.  I realized that in the past, I've focused on sharing with you the things I make in a manner geared very much towards Thanksgiving newbies.  And if you want to read about that, or snag any of my classic recipes for the basics, you can check it out here.

There are some changes I've planned for this year, and the biggest one is that I'm going to Dry Brine our turkey.  In years past I've been a big proponent of a wet brine, and it took many experiments to get the brine liquid just right, but while it made for a moist bird with good flavor, the flavor wasn't predominantly turkey.  The turkey was more a texture, a delivery device for gravy and cranberry sauce and a sidekick to the side dishes.  But since I last hosted, a few things have changed.  One, I was diagnosed diabetic, so my carb overload Thanksgivings are a thing of the past.  I still make everything I used to, but I have to limit myself to small rational portions of the carbs, and go heavy on the protein and veggies.  This means that the turkey is suddenly much more important than ever before.  So this year I made a commitment in an effort to make the bird the star of the show.  

For starters, I ordered a fresh heritage turkey.  It's expensive, especially since it has to be shipped to me, but I think it will be worth it.  If you have the means, do it.  If not, I hope you will ask your butcher to find you a fresh bird from a local producer.  Second I'm losing the wet brine in favor of a dry brine.  The reason is simple.  While I want moist turkey, I want the moistness to be natural.  When you wet brine the salt in the brine draws the juices out of the turkey and then the turkey sucks back in the brine.  But now the juices have been significantly diluted by the water in the brine.  Moist, yes.  Flavorful, yes.  Turkey flavored?  Not so much.  Plus you have to manage a large bucket of raw poultry juice sloshing around, not ideal.  With a dry brine you need longer, three days instead of 16 hours.  But it is easier, and results in a bird that is moist and tastes like turkey.  The science is the same.  By salting the outside and inside of the bird heavily, it draws the moisture out of the bird.  Except then the turkey juices mix with the salt and get sucked back into the meat, without any extra water, just natural turkey juices that are now seasoned.  The salt that is now inside the meat helps the bird retain its natural moisture while it cooks.  And instead of a huge bucket of potential food poisoning liquid hanging about that you have to deal with, all you need is a large ziploc or brining bag, readily available at your grocery store or Amazon.

On Monday or Tuesday, take your turkey, remove the giblets bag, and generously salt with kosher salt,  1 Tablespoon for every 5 pounds of turkey, mixed with some dried herbs if you like.  Plunk your well salted bird in the big ziploc bag, press as much of the air out as you can, and pop it in the fridge.  Once a day or so if you remember, massage the bird around in the bag and flip it about.  The night before Thanksgiving, right before you go to bed, take it out of the bag, DON'T RINSE IT OFF, and put it in the fridge uncovered.  Be sure to give it plenty of room so that the raw turkey doesn't touch any other ingredients or things in your fridge.   I put a protective layer of saran wrap over the inside of the fridge door to cover all the condiments etc. just in case.  The next day, cook the turkey with your favorite recipe.

This year I'm also scaling things down a bit, for a more streamlined meal.  The only pre-dinner nibbles are going to be herbed popcorn, fresh snap peas, and almonds, and then little espresso cups of pumpkin soup.   I'm skipping the Jell-o mold this year, since all of us want to save our sugar rations for desserts, and doing steamed green beans with a lemon chive oil instead of the casserole.

But I'm adding in my mother-in-law's Pe-Hick Pie, a pretty simple pecan pie but with half pecans and half hickory nuts, which is a real upgrade and will be a lovely counterpoint to the classic deep dish apple pie.

The other thing I'm doing is some early mise-en place.  I compulsively save those round plastic deli containers that everything seems to come in these days.  So for each recipe I'm making, I'm making little tubs of the dry ingredients, pre-measured and labeled, so that when I'm cooking I don't have to measure things out one at a time.  It's a trick stolen from some chef pals, who use masking tape and a sharpie on the deli lids to keep stuff organized, and I think it will make a huge difference.

I'd love to hear from you what your plans are, and any changes or improvements you're excited to make for your celebrations!

Yours in Good Taste,
A Very Thankful Polymath

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Basement Demo- A Photo Essay


Many of you have inquired about how the basement renovation is progressing.  So here is how.

Yes, this is our very scary boiler, and you can see why we are counting days till it is gone!

So far so good!  There have been some fun treasures:  a tobacco pouch and rolling papers from 1918, boards with the original street name written on them (Logan Blvd. used to be Humboldt Blvd.), some chunks of coal from the old coal-fired furnace.  And we have been able to refine the design of the space.

One of the things that has changed significantly is the plan for the feel of the whole area.  We had planned for your basic finished basement, all drywall and snugly insulated, with hardwood floors.  But we believe in letting the building tell us what she wants to be, and apparently she wants to have something of an old-school industrial feel.  First she revealed a lovely solid steel structure, including one post we didn't even know was there!  The steel is quite hefty, secured with huge rivets that make us all think of grand ships, and large square beveled footplates.  They seemed a shame to cover up, so we decided to keep them exposed.  When our HVAC team convinced us that we would want radiant in-floor heating down there, which is essentially tubes for hot water that get embedded in the concrete sub-floor, we realized that with the exposed steel beams, perhaps an acid-stained concrete treatment might be a better choice for flooring, especially since we love rugs and much of the floor will get covered anyway.  

The best and most exciting choice is to leave all of the gorgeous stone foundation and brick exposed.  These craftsman did such an incredible job, and it is truly beautiful to look at.  And since the foundation is a good 3 feet thick and the brick is four courses of masonry, there is actually no need to insulate the walls.  We'll have both the floor heating and the new forced air heat, so it should be plenty cozy.  Charming Suitor and I are thrilled with these changes, it is taking the basement from a pretty functional yet generic looking space to one that will have some special architectural details and true beauty.  And even better, it all involves just letting the building be what it already is, which is always the most affordable choice.

The basement will contain:

Charming Suitor's wine cellar.  This is actually a two-room space, incorporating the old canning room/root cellar that is under the front porch stairs, and a small room next to it.  CS is in the midst of planning the racking system and figuring out the right equipment, and is having a ball.  It is going to be such a terrific thing for him to have his collection in the house and not four miles away in storage!

An exercise room.  I know, I know, everyone always says that it doesn't get used, but we have the room and we already have some equipment, and CS and I have been going to the gym together, so we hope we can keep up the habit of working out as a team, and maybe even increase the amount if we can just head downstairs to do it.  Maybe we will be the exception!

A media room.  I hate having huge TVs in the middle of your living room like a big black hole, so I'm really excited to have a designated place for movie nights and sports.  Plus right now, we can only get three people on our couch, so when we have people over to watch something, it is sort of uncomfortable and annoying.

Two guest bedrooms.  Because really?  All I want is two little things.  I want to be able to have one Thanksgiving with all of my family and the entire Charming family here in the house for the weekend.  And I want to be able to tell dinner party guests to feel free to bring PJs, come for dinner, stay for breakfast!

A bathroom.  This is fairly self-explanatory.

Storage, laundry, and mechanicals.

You can see how this project is going to take the rest of our natural lives.

That's all the news from here in the loud grinding whacking thumping vortex in which I'm living!

More soon,
Your Polymath