Sweets That Brings Back Childhood Memories

Picture the perfect brunch scene: fluffy pancakes patiently waiting for syrup to rain down. The coffee’s hot, the pancakes are golden, the whipping cream is cool, and the syrup is warmed. Your knife slides effortlessly into the tender little rounds, and you just know you’re in for a treat. To me, there’s nothing more decadent than a plate of pancakes, piled high, topped with softly whipped cream. I don’t even need syrup, especially if there’s fruit and chocolate involved.

I love fruit, nuts, and chocolate together. Throw them all into a pancake, and I’m in heaven. Technically, these pancakes don’t have nuts in them (unless you count coconut, which is actually a drupe — those crazy botanists!), but they are mega-delicious, especially due to the super-antioxidant, superfood-loaded Aloha chocolate I used.

These chocolate-dotted, fluffy pancakes with cool, softly whipped cream, crunchy toasted coconut chips, sweet-tart raspberries, and chocolate are absolutely decadent and perfect for a weekend (or weekday) treat!

Superfood Chocolate & Coconut Pancakes

1 cup flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1 tbsp sugar
1 large egg
3/4 cups buttermilk
1/4 cup coconut milk
1 tbsp coconut oil, melted and cooled
1/4 tsp coconut extract (optional)
1 Superfood Aloha chocolate bar (or 1/3 cup roughly chopped chocolate)
Butter or oil, as needed

Softly whipped cream
Coconut Greek yogurt
Toasted coconut
Shaved chocolate bits

1. In a bowl, whisk together the dry ingredients and set aside. In a separate large bowl, whisk the egg and add the buttermilk, coconut milk, coconut oil, and coconut extract (if using).

2. Add the wet ingredients to the flour mixture and gently combine with a fork. Do not over-mix. This is a thick, lumpy pancake batter. The little lumps will make your pancakes fluffier. Let the batter sit for 10 minutes to allow some moisture to work its way into the lumps. Gently fold in the chocolate.

3. Heat up a nonstick pan over medium-low heat. Brush a thin layer of butter or oil on your pan. Drop the batter by the tablespoon into the pan and cook until small bubbles form on the surface and at the edges. The pancakes should be golden brown.

4. Flip and continue cooking for 1–2 minutes, or until golden brown. Remove from the pan and place on a wire rack inside a baking sheet. Keep the cooked pancakes warm in the oven until you finish pancaking.

5. Enjoy topped with yogurt (my preferred choice) or softly whipped cream, toasted coconut, and chocolate, if desired.

Note: I like freezing my Aloha chocolate before making pancakes — it helps the chocolate keep its shape and prevents overly melted/burnt chocolate.

Lasagna For The Holiday Appetizer

Open-Faced Lasagna with Acorn Squash and Smoked Caciocavallo

This layerless lasagna recipe from Philadelphia chef Marc Vetri uses an egg-rich dough, but store-bought fresh pasta sheets can be substituted.

Everyone loves lasagna, which makes it a safe bet for holiday cooking. But it’s also a labor of love, the kind of dish that by its nature takes over your table. The solution to a lighter lasagna? This open-face style.

This one, which is reminiscent of a savory pastry, comes to us from Philadelphia chef Marc Vetri. The egg-rich pasta dough is easy to make on your own, but you can also use store-bought sheets of pasta to further simplify the process. A great option for appetizers for a crowd, open-faced lasagna is the fuss-free, bite-size cousin of traditional lasagna. Each pasta square is cooked quickly in boiling water before being drained and transferred to greased baking sheets, then topped with thinly-sliced acorn squash, smoked caciocavallo, parmesan, and thyme.

Baked until golden and melty, the result is a deconstructed lasagna without the heaviness of the traditional favorite. We highly recommend serving it alongside chilled, big batch cocktails as a lead-up to richer holidays meals. It’s all about balance.

Zucchini Brings Flavor To Your Meal

My partner, Mike, and I have been on a huge vegetable kick lately. We must be growing up or something, because all of a sudden, we can’t get enough vegetables. When I was a kid, I don’t remember eating vegetables at all; I think the only vegetables I ate were carrots and potatoes, neither of which count as leafy greens. In fact, I don’t think a piece of lettuce ever passed my lips until I was about 10 years old. I’m really not sure where I got all my nutrients from, besides the Flintstones vitamins that I was obsessed with. Zucchini, when I was a kid, was much like eggplant in my book: slimy and weirdly textured. Now, though, I can’t get enough.

I find that the trick with zucchini is not to overcook it. Since zucchini is naturally pretty watery, it turns into a mush if you cook it down too much. This is especially true for zucchini noodles. Also note that zucchini doesn’t need too much heat; all you want to do is soften it a bit.

2 tbsp neutral oil, divided
1/2 lb large shrimp, deveined (and peeled, if desired)
1 medium fennel bulb, thinly sliced lengthwise, fronds saved
2 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
1/2 tsp crushed red pepper flakes, or more to taste
1/2 lemon, seeds removed, very thinly sliced, divided
2 small zucchinis, spiralized using the smallest blade
1/2 cup roughly chopped cilantro
Olive oil, to taste
Salt and fresh ground pepper, to taste

1. Heat 1 tablespoon of oil in a large skillet over high heat. Add the shrimp, being careful not to crowd the pan, and cook for 1-2 minutes per side, until slightly charred, pink, and cooked through. Season generously with salt and pepper, remove from the pan, and set aside.

2. Reduce the heat to medium-high and add the remaining tablespoon of oil. Add the fennel slices and cook, stirring occasionally, until golden-brown and soft, 10-12 minutes.

3. Add the garlic, red pepper flakes, and half of the lemon slices. Cook until garlic is soft, about 2 minutes.

4. Add the zucchini noodles, season generously with salt and pepper, and cook, tossing, until tender and cooked through, 2-3 minutes, depending on thickness of “zoodles.”

5. Add the shrimp back into the pan and toss to combine.

6. In a small bowl, toss the cilantro, fennel fronds, and remaining lemon slices with a drizzle of olive oil. Season with salt and pepper and serve on top of the shrimp and zucchini noodles.

Chicago Summer Faves

There’s so much to love about Chicago summers, and tops among them is the food: The bounty of fresh fruits and veggies at farmers’ markets, the icy, cool treats, and all those amazing restaurant patios. Here, seven influential Chicago food bloggers and podcasters tell us about their all-time favorite summer eats, the best local spots for summer dining, and the best things they’ve eaten so far this year.

Hungry yet? You will be.



Tim Mazurek of Lottie & Doof

All-time favorite summer eats: “I love a good hot dog. This summer I’ll be eating them at Stock, the new café at Local Foods, where my friend (and fellow Midwesterner) Abra Berens is serving her version — with mustard, beet ketchup and relish—using hot dogs from Butcher and Larder.”

The best Chicago restaurant for summer dining: “I love drinking Parson’s famous Negroni slushies on their patio during the summer months. The fried chicken ain’t bad either. And on particularly hot days, when you’re craving some more icy goodness, you’re within walking distance of Miko’s for some of my favorite Italian ice in Chicago.”The best dish I’ve had so far this year: “I like creating riffs on tabbouleh when the weather is warm and vegetables are abundant. You can throw together whatever vegetables you have on hand with some bulgur and a citrusy dressing, and you’ve got the perfect summer salad.”

Louisa Chu of Chewing the Fat

All-time favorite summer eats: “I’ve got to have Mario’s Italian Lemonade. The stand in Little Italy closes for the season by mid-September, so a summer pilgrimage is always a must. My favorite is the peach when it’s in season. But they’ve been working on some limited editions this summer, like pomegranate, that I want to try, too.”

The best Chicago restaurant for summer dining: Superdawg in Wheeling. It backs right up to a forest preserve, so you can get table service at the picnic tables, and have that amazing hot dog with a beautiful view. It’s a like a daytrip getaway from the city.”

The best dish I’ve had so far this year: “It’s one I haven’t had yet, that I’m craving: The reincarnation of Hot Doug’s, which closed last October, at Wrigley Field. Three of his gourmet sausages are being sold at a new concession stand behind the center field scoreboard: the Rick Reuschel (spicy pork sausage topped with chipotle mustard and pepper jack cheese), the Dave Kingman (bacon-cheeseburger sausage with cheddar cheese and sweet barbecue sauce) and the Carmen Fanzone, a Polish sausage with spicy brown mustard and caramelized onions. [They’re named for Doug’s three all-time favorite Cubs players.]


Quincy Bissic of The Chopping Blog All-time favorite summer eats: “I love anything that has fresh, summer peaches. It might be a white peach margarita, a peach crumble or peach salsa. I also enjoy the fresh flavor of grilled peach halves served with a butter glaze made with vanilla bean, black pepper, and Demerara sugar. But my ultimate favorite is white peach gazpacho!”

The best Chicago restaurant for summer dining: Spritz Burger has one of the most comfortable outdoor patios — the restaurant is on a bustling stretch in Lakeview, but you’d never know it. Dan Smith of The Hearty Boys is the chef, and makes his own spiced ketchup. Every month, he features a ‘Collision Burger’ created by a different local chef. The last one I had was a 50% mushroom and 50% grass-fed Angus beef patty with garlic aioli, blueberry pickled onions, Brie, and Swiss cheese. Incredible.”

The best dish I’ve had so far this year: “The chef/owner at Jin Thai Cuisine floored me with authentic, not-normally-found in-Chicago Pad Thai. It has fresh banana blossoms, noodles with a sweet and sour tamarind sauce, lime juice, fish sauce, scallions, and bean sprouts. The banana blossom has a very bitter and slight mouth numbing effect. It’s mind-blowing.”



Caroline Lubbers of Whipped All-time favorite summer eats: “Blueberry crisp — I grew up in Michigan where we anxiously awaited the fresh blueberry harvest each summer. A simple crumble topping is all the berries need, and a scoop of vanilla ice cream doesn’t hurt.”

The best Chicago restaurant for summer dining: Gene’s Sausage Shop’s rooftop is a casual, unexpected gem perched on top of the specialty grocer in Lincoln Square. The menu is small, but a cold beer and grilled, housemade sausage hit the spot under the hot, summer sun.”

The best dish I’ve had so far this year: “I’m obsessed with the crispy Brussels sprouts from Gather. I’ve never tasted anything like it, and I find it’s reason enough to dine here. The Brussels sprouts are soft on the inside, crispy on the outside, and mixed with toasted pistachios, parmesan cheese, miso vinaigrette, and bonito flakes.”

Katie Kijowski and Michelle Erickson of Chicago Food Whores

All-time favorite summer eats: “It’s actually a new favorite: Southport & Irving (SIP) started a late night brunch this summer. We LOVE the cheddar buttermilk biscuits and cream gravy with rabbit confit and summer vegetables. Must add: two poached eggs. It is glorious.”

The best Chicago restaurant for summer dining: Boiler Room in Logan Square has a spacious patio and mouth-watering cocktails. You can’t beat the PB & J Special: a slice of pizza, a PBR tall boy, and a shot of Jameson for a mere $8.50 — all day, every day. Finish it off with some boozy, soft-serve Jameson ice cream, and it’s a perfect summer dining experience!

The best dish we’ve had so far this year: Charlatan’s Mint Zuca: rock shrimp, sweet pea bisque, olive oil, nasturtium, preserved lemon crème fraîche, and brioche croutons. So fresh, and flavors balance perfectly.”


Mina Im of Chicago Food Girl All-time favorite summer eats: “Nothing says summer in Chicago than a White Negroni shaved ice from Cochon Volant in the Loop. It’s my go-to summer drink, and the presentation is gorgeous. And I love gazpacho, but my summer cold soup of choice is Naengmyun. Growing up, my mom would make this every summer. It’s a lightly sweet-tart broth with buckwheat noodles, topped with thinly sliced cucumber and pickled radish. Da Rae Jung Korean Restaurant in Lincoln Square is my favorite in the city.”

The best Chicago restaurant for summer dining: “For brunch, you can always find me on the patio of Southport Grocery, eating a plate of my favorite bread pudding pancakes. In the afternoons, I love sitting on the sidewalk patio of The Boarding House drinking a crisp glass of rosé. And I like to end summer nights on Mott Street’s patio, where you can make your own s’mores.”

The best dish I’ve had so far this year: Balsamic Vinegar Caviar: these little beautiful balls are a simple and fantastic way to add a touch of molecular gastronomy to your dishes. The balsamic vinegar is transformed into tiny jelly balls by releasing drops of agar agar (a gelatin mixture) in cold oil using a syringe.”

Pizza Secret Weapon

You know, until recently, I never really got the appeal of cheese pizza. Growing up, my pizza of choice was always ham and pineapple. Fast-forward many, many years and I’ve pretty much tried every type of pizza. Even so, amidst my extensive eating of porchetta pizzas, grilled-cheese pizzas, and caramelized-shrimp pizzas, I’ve been slow to answer the siren song of the regular-old, cheese-topped classic slice.

But now, I’ve gone to the dark and cheesy side. I’m all about cheese pizza, which is in no way plain. First off, we need to consider the base of all pizzas: the crust. My go-to is Jim Lahey’s no-knead pizza dough. It comes together ridiculously easily and bakes up beautifully. Essentially, all you do is stir together flour, water, salt, and yeast, and wait for time to do its thing. The next day, you have gloriously soft and silky pizza dough, just waiting for sauce and cheese.

I shaped my dough in a cast-iron pan — because I like the extra heat that cast iron brings to the bottom of your crust. I’m adamantly against soggy crusts, and when home-baking pizzas, cast-iron pans are the workhorse that will give you crispy crust every time. I sprinkled the sauce with a bit of crushed fennel for depth, as well as some crushed garlic (because garlic and tomatoes are best friends). On top of that deliciousness, the cheese was added in layers: mozzarella on the bottom, then parmesan, then brie, then dollops of ricotta. The melt of the mozzarella, the nuttiness of the parmesan, the creaminess of the brie, and the freshness of the ricotta make this cheese pizza a winner.

Related: Goat Cheese Toasts With Balsamic And Roasted Tomatoes

Four-Cheese Pizza
makes 1 pizza

1 ball no-knead pizza dough
1/3 – 1/2 cup pizza sauce, depending on how saucy you like your pizza
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 tsp toasted fennel seeds, crushed
1/4 cup shredded mozzarella
1/4 cup shredded parmesan
1/4 small wheel of brie, cut or ripped into chunks
1/4 cup ricotta
Freshly ground pepper, to taste
Red pepper flakes, to serve

1. Arrange a rack in middle of the oven and preheat to its hottest setting, 500°F– 550°F.2. Lightly oil a cast-iron pan and dust lightly with cornmeal, if desired.3. Shape dough into a circle, pushing gently. Spread the sauce almost to the edges and sprinkle on the garlic and fennel seeds.4. Top with the shredded mozzarella, parmesan, brie, and ricotta.5. Grind on a generous amount of pepper and place in the oven to bake for 12-15 minutes, or until the crust is puffy, crisp, and slightly blistered. Enjoy immediately with red pepper flakes.