Homemade Strawberry Jam

It's strawberry season and I have been wanting to make homemade strawberry jam since the leaves started turning last fall. I had read about how easy it is to make, so I decided to check out Barefoot Contessa's recipe (I love her!), which calls for lemon juice, lemon rind, sugar and of course, strawberries. Sounded easy enough.

I'll admit it took me a couple tries to get the jam to actually set to that viscous gelatin-like texture we all love. My first attempt came out really tasty, but incredibly runny. Have you heard of pectin before? I hadn't either, but Healing Cuisine by Elise made it a lot more interesting than it sounds.

I have a habit of using much less sugar than recipes call for because I tend to shy away from over-sweetness. I figured since the strawberries were delicious on their own, I'd go easy on the sugar. With jam however, you really do need to use the amount of sugar the recipe calls for (or you can substitute the sugar with a low-sugar pectin) because it gives it that thick, gooey richness that gels with the toast perfectly.

On my second attempt, I used the exact amount of sugar the recipe required and it turned out sweet, tangy and delicious. Enjoy!

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All Images © Regan Baroni 2015.

Posted on April 19, 2015 .

Birchwood Kitchen

Birchwood Kitchen has been a favorite Chicago spot for a long time. Back when Mike and I lived in Ukrainian Village, we would frequently walk to Bucktown to get brunch or dinner here. This intimate BYOB has so much charm, the food is incredibly fresh and local and it even has an outdoor patio to enjoy on those warm summer days & nights... it's hard not to fall in love with this place. 

All of the Birchwood trees they have in and outside of the restaurant were brought in from Wisconsin by the owner, Judd Murphy, which is where the restaurant got its name. Their patio, with 10-12 tables for dining, has several varieties of herbs growing during the summer months, including basil, chives, tarragon, mint, rosemary and parsley. They light up the evenings with their hanging globe lights and it feels like you're dining in someone's private backyard. 

When I came into shoot for Birchwood, it was a rainy April day. However, even on rainy days they get packed. Despite the busy time, the staff was (and always is) incredibly warm and friendly. You can cozy up at an intimate table near the gorgeous front windows or grab one near the back where you're surrounded by exposed brick and the delicious smells coming from the open kitchen. Each table is decorated with freshly selected flowers that are placed in old salt and pepper canisters. I love those kinds of details. 

The two dishes featured in my post include the Open-Faced Asparagus Sandwich with toasted sourdough, roasted asparagus and spring onions, basil goat cheese, chorizo, and crispy white beans served with a petit green salad made with pickled and fresh vegetables & lemon vinaigrette and the Chopped Salad with romaine lettuce, onions, pickled carrots, cucumber, bacon, hard-boiled egg, crispy chickpeas, blue cheese, lemon-buttermilk dressing. Their menu has daily specials and they also have catering services for event planning. 

The casual and inviting environment paired with their locally inspired menu go hand in hand with making everyone's experience intimate, warm and incredibly satisfying. Thank you for having me, Birchwood Kitchen! We'll definitely be visiting you again soon.  

xo

All Images © Regan Baroni 2015.

Posted on April 12, 2015 .

Roasted Broccoli with Lemon and Garlic

Have you ever noticed how adding lemon can transform the flavors of so many different foods? It's such a simple ingredient and it really brightens things up. This is a game-changer for broccoli. As Mike and I continue to experiment with easy sides to pair with our usual dinners, I really wanted share this one. It also gave me a chance to play with this gorgeous plate that my Mom gave me to use for my shoots. Love those details. 

The recipe is so easy and very healthy... and as swimsuit season approaches, I'm all over it. 

Enjoy!

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All Images © Regan Baroni 2015.

Posted on April 5, 2015 .

Asparagus Risotto

My love affair with risotto started when Mike cooked it for me on our second date. I wasn't much of a cook back then and figured risotto was something he could make in my rice cooker. When he pulled out my pots and pans that had been collecting dust for years, I remember thinking I was in for something delicious. That, and Wow - I'm dating a guy who can cook! 

I'm going to admit that I've never actually made risotto before. Mike and I will be married five years this September and to this day, he still is the only one of us that makes it. It's what I like to call his specialty... and it draws me in right from the beginning. As the smells intensify during the preparation, it makes me feel so loved... and incredibly hungry. 

Mike doesn't usually follow a recipe when he makes risotto because he's made it so often he could do it with his eyes closed. However, he recommends a book called Risotto that he picked up long ago at Williams-Sonoma. It has several approachable risotto recipes all written by Pamela Sheldon Johns

I hope you get as much love from this meal as I do. 
Enjoy!

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All Images © Regan Baroni 2015.

Plate is from Anthropologie.

Posted on March 29, 2015 .

Sailor-Style Mussels

I love mussels. They're cheap and super easy to make at home. Even if you're not a seafood fan, you can just grab some rustic, grilled bread and dip it into the creamy broth. Delicious.

Mike was inspired by a recipe he found on Serious Eats and this is the best flavor combination we've had yet. The recipe calls for homemade mayo, which we also included in the recipe link below. It's also easy to make and comes together really quickly. Don't use store-bought mayo. We all like to cut corners where we can at times, especially for weeknight dinners, but store-bought mayo won't combine with the sauce well. Everything comes together in about 20-25 minutes.

You don't have to go out to a restaurant to enjoy mussels. Give this a try. You won't be disappointed... it's such a nice break from the usual work week routine.

Enjoy!

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All Images © Regan Baroni 2015.

Posted on March 22, 2015 .

Whole Wheat Pancakes

Big shout out to Gina and her blog, Skinny Taste for introducing me the deliciousness of whole wheat pancakes! She actually rewrote her original recipe to make sure it was perfect. Her research definitely paid off. I've been making these for Mike and myself for a while now and I was so excited to do a shoot on this truly delicious recipe. 

When I first heard "whole wheat" I was wondering if the pancakes would be flavorless and bland. However, with the subtle hints of cinnamon and vanilla they are actually way more flavorful than I was expecting. These fluffy 'cakes can be enjoyed on their own, but since I'm a sucker for really good maple syrup, I always pour it on. 

This recipe quickly became my go-to and is now the standard bearer for all weekend breakfasts at casa de Baroni. Thank you, Gina, for opening my eyes to how pancakes can be healthy and delicious!

xo

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All Images © Regan Baroni 2015.

Posted on March 15, 2015 .

Honey-Roasted Carrots

We all have go-to recipes when the work week gets busy, but sometimes it can start to feel repetitive and boring. Chicken and salad, again? Mike and I have started experimenting with new side dishes to accompany our usual chicken, pork or fish dinners. It's an attempt to make our week night dinners feel fresh again without reinventing the wheel.

These tasty Honey-Roasted Carrots are incredibly easy to make. I originally found a similar recipe in Food & Wine magazine, but I simplified it to fit into our busy week night dinner plans. All you need are: carrots, butter, salt, pepper and, of course, honey. It's simple, yet delicious. The honey really brings out the sweetness in the carrots and the flavors pair really well with most dinners. 

I also decided to submit this recipe to Food52 for their 'Best Recipe with Honey' contest because it's super easy and incredibly delicious. If you're not familiar with Food52, it's a website that brings cooks together to share recipes, ideas and support within the food community. I highly recommend checking it out because it's always nice to expand your community and gain a little extra inspiration in the kitchen. This was the first recipe I've submitted and I definitely plan to submit more. Maybe I'll see you on there!  

Enjoy the recipe!

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All Images © Regan Baroni 2015.

Posted on March 10, 2015 .

Paris

rbaroni_paris_03.jpg

Paris is beautiful.

We had February weather (lower 40's) and it was surprisingly full of tourists, but we loved every second we were there. I'm pretty sure it's impossible to have a bad day in Paris. We rented a small, but really cute apartment near the Louvre and we walked all day, everyday. Everywhere we turned there were gorgeous details of historic architecture, colorful cafes and delicious options for food and wine on every corner. The Eiffel Tower seemed to keep an eye on us everywhere we went, peeking through the buildings and trees. We loved it.

The metro (train) is very easy to navigate and if our destination was far away or if it was rainy, we hopped on. There was no need to cab it anywhere and due to the language barrier, I don't think we were ready to tackle that on this trip anyway. Good walking shoes are key in Paris. 

We toured the Louvre, the Musée d' Orsay, the Musée de l'Orangerie, Notre Dame and Sainte Chapelle. My favorite was Musée d' Orsay, which is a gorgeous art gallery built within an old train station that was built around 1900. It stores original art from Van Gogh, Monet, Cézanne, Seurat, Sisley and several others who I have only read about in books. Even though there were lines of tourists, a highlight was eating Nutella and banana crepes on the street while we waited to get in. Not too shabby at all.

The restaurants were amazing. We referred to Paris By Mouth a lot for ideas and recommendations and we were never disappointed. Most of the restaurants are very small and intimate and since we "tried" to speak French, the locals were incredibly helpful in walking us through the menus. Mike actually tackled the language really well and even got a couple compliments on his accent from locals while we were there.This allowed me to stay strong with bonjour and trés bien!

We did a Taste of the Marais food tour which was a huge highlight on the trip. We had a local, english speaking guide (Claire) walk us around the Marais neighborhood and we stopped into different specialty markets to get bread, meats, cheeses and chocolates. The chocolate shops remind me of really fancy jewelry stores. She later took us to a cute wine bar where we got to sit down with wine pairings to sip with all of our delicacies. Délicieux! 

It's bitter-sweet to be back. We love traveling and getting to visit Paris together for the first time felt really special. I had no idea how completely stunning the city would be and I am full of memories and stories from the trip that Mike and I can share together. I'll miss walking down the street with our pick of cafes to choose from and randomly encountering a jazz band playing next to the Saint Germain church that has a bell tower over 1000 years old. We stood together watching and listening. Although the museums were gorgeous, those unplanned moments are what I will miss the most. There is so much to do and so much to see. A lot of the stories that come from your trip to Paris aren't something you can plan or make a reservation for... That's the magic of Paris. 

Au revoir, Paris y Merci.
xo

All Images © Regan Baroni 2015.

Posted on March 1, 2015 .

Sugar Fixé Macaron

I am beyond excited to say that Mike and I are heading to Paris for the first time on Friday! We've never been to Europe together before and this is our first trip to the city of light. Our evenings have been filled with practicing french (huîtres, se il vous plaît), researching restaurants, oyster bars and museums and counting down the minutes until we can eat crepes while walking down the street.

With my focus almost exclusively on Paris these days, it was perfect timing when Cindy Summers asked me to come shoot at her new patisserie, Sugar Fixé Macaron. She opened her first patisserie, Sugar Fixé in Oak Park, which was notably discussed by Serious Eats and The Huffington Post as having "the best macarons." Her second location, in Chicago's Lincoln Park neighborhood at 958 West Armitage, opened in December of 2014. 

I wanted to share a sneak peek from the shoot to show off the gorgeous craft and presentation of her newest desserts. I hope it inspires you to go in and get a sweet little taste of Paris right here in the heart of Chicago. 

Au revoir!
xo

Images in order from left to right, top to bottom:
Macaron Party Favors
Mascarpone Cassis Dome
Passion Fruit Tart
Raspberry Macaron Entremet
Macaron éclair
Passion Fruit Tart (aerial)
Julius Meinl Coffee Mugs
Caramel Crunch Petit Gateau

All Images © Regan Baroni 2015.

Posted on February 10, 2015 .

Cowboy Caviar

I love the recipe inspiration I get from my Mom. When Mike and I went to Minnesota to visit her, she introduced us to Cowboy Caviar. This is probably one of my most favorite things to have on hand at home. The recipe is really easy and will make enough to last throughout the week. The best part is you can adjust the ingredients to alter to your liking. For example, my mom likes to use black beans instead of pinto beans. 

The flavors from the corn, beans and peppers are so refreshing together. The first time we tried this, we ate it with chips. Mike and I loved the flavors so much that we started using it with tacos, chicken, fish and eggs (my favorite). I absolutely love to sauté the mix with a little olive oil in a skillet and make a sunny side up egg to go with it. Or, just grab a spoon and dive in.

I recommend making this a day in advance so the flavors have time to blend together. If you don't have the time, this should be good to go after a couple hours in the fridge. 

Enjoy!

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All Images © Regan Baroni 2015.

Posted on February 6, 2015 .