Blueberry Pie with Mint


It's always blueberry season in our house. Although Mike tends to lean on the side of savory vs. sweet, he loves it when I make anything with blueberries. Since we recently celebrated his birthday and our 5-year anniversary in September, I was inspired to bake a blueberry pie. 

Pies can be really sweet so I love exploring ways to not go overboard with the sweetness. I always go easy on the sugar with fruit pies. Since fruit already has so much natural sugar on its own, I only use half of what a regular recipe suggests and my recipe reflects that. I also added fresh mint to brighten up the flavor. It was delicious.

I swear, the last five years went as quickly as the pie did... Savor the pie and each other. 


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All Images © Regan Baroni 2015.

Classic Chicken Noodle Soup

I've been really into soups lately and although there are several amazing and unique recipes out there, sometimes I just want to stick to the classics. I love chicken noodle soup. It reminds me of being a kid and feeling so comforted by the amazing smells that filled the kitchen as it simmered on the stove. I always loved it when my mom would let me taste it with her to be sure the flavors were just right. 

For this recipe, I made my own chicken stock. I debated skipping this step and buying it in the store, but I'm so glad I took the time to prepare the stock separately. It's really easy to do, it just requires a little extra time. You can really taste the difference and the best part is, you can make a lot and store it for future recipes. 

My favorite part about this recipe is the final touch. After you ladle the soup into bowls for serving, add a sprinkle of cinnamon over the top. It takes this classic soup to a whole new level of warmth and flavor. I don't recommend adding the cinnamon to the entire pot. A little can go a long way and when you add it to the individual bowls it's easier to keep the flavors balanced.

Another recommendation I have is to cook and store the noodles separately, otherwise they will absorb most of the broth leaving you with chicken noodle pasta instead of chicken noodle soup.

I really think you're going to love this one... the cinnamon is definitely a game changer.


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All Images © Regan Baroni 2015.

Butternut Squash Soup with Beet Microgreens

I know it's not technically fall yet, but it feels incredibly close. It's my favorite season - not only is it Mike's and my 5-year anniversary, but I also love the recipes, the colors, the fashion and the weather. The air is a little cooler and I find myself gravitating towards thicker blankets and comfort food. I love to make this Butternut Squash Soup throughout the cold weather seasons. It really brings out those "cozy feelings" that we all seek when the leaves start to turn.

This year I tried something slightly different with the recipe that made a big impact for me. I added Amaranth (beet microgreens) as garnish and was amazed at how much they enhanced the flavor. The microgreens taste like beets with a calming, earthy flavor that pairs nicely with the sweetness of the butternut squash. It's subtle, yet I can't imagine this soup without them now. It really is incredible what microgreens can bring to a recipe. 

With all the happiness that fall brings for me, there is some sadness sprinkled in as well. My Dad passed away in the fall when I was a lot younger and although I miss him everyday, I find myself thinking about him a lot more during this time of year. The photos placed in my shoot were taken by my Dad with his old Canon Tlb SLR. He was an incredible artist, one of my favorites. 

I like to think he knows what I'm up to with my photography these days... much like the fall, I sense that he's nearby too.  


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All Images © Regan Baroni 2015.

Spicy Gazpacho with Shrimp and Avocado


The first time I tried gazpacho was several years ago. I was having lunch at Blackbird in Chicago with my friend Amy. I remember feeling somewhat skeptical of a soup that could be overly tomato-y in flavor and served cold. But, after the first bite, I was completely hooked. It was so light and smooth and the flavors tasted like a fresh summer garden. 

After tasting Vistro's version of gazpacho in Hinsdale, IL recently, I was inspired to make it at home. I knew three things: I wanted it smooth, I wanted it spicy and I wanted it with shrimp. After some research, I found a version on Epicurious that I altered to fit the flavors I love.

The prep can take a bit of time, but I really enjoy recipes that require me to hang out in the kitchen a little longer. There's something about cooking on a Saturday that slows life down and reminds me to enjoy the process of the recipe. I think it makes the final result taste even better too.

A couple of notes I made are: 
* Use an immersion blender to get that light, smooth texture.
* For the spice, use a spicy, low sodium V8 and a couple of jalapeños, seeds removed. You can add additional hot sauce if you want, but add that to taste. 
* I picked up a half pound of bay shrimp (smaller) and a half pound of gulf shrimp (larger). The bay shrimp get added at the end right before chilling overnight. The larger shrimp are added as garnish along with the diced avocado. 

Take your time with this one and enjoy the last bits of summer that we have left... 

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All Images © Regan Baroni 2015.

Plum Pie from Mom

"If you can read, you can cook."  --My Mom

I always love it when my mom (Carol) visits us from Minnesota. She and I talk daily and I love hearing about her most recent adventures in the kitchen. Earlier in the week, she mentioned she would be bringing some fresh plums from her friend Terry's Toka Plum trees in southern Minnesota. When she arrived for a visit this weekend, we made a plum pie. 

My Mom is an amazing cook and pies are one of her many specialties. I had never tasted a plum pie before and, trust me, this is one for the books. The flavors are tart, but balanced with a subtle floral sweetness. The aromas in the kitchen were incredible too. It felt like I was cozying up to fall, my favorite season. 

In her recipe, she used a Vietnamese Cinnamon from Penzey's that really intensified the flavors. You can use regular ground cinnamon, but I highly recommend the Vietnamese variation since I could definitely taste the difference. Wheaties is another ingredient that my Mom has always used as her "secret ingredient" when she bakes a fruit pie. It's completely fool proof for making sure the bottom of the crust doesn't get too soggy from all the juices. After you've added the crust to the pie pan, simply sprinkle just enough Wheaties to cover the bottom before adding the fruit. No one will know they're there. It's pretty clever. 

Now another week is in front of me and my Mom has headed back to Minnesota. Weekends feel far too short, especially when she visits. Both Mike and I are very excited to visit her at the end of September and can't wait to see what new recipes she'll spoil us with... There's truly nothing better than a home cooked meal from Mom. 


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All Images © Regan Baroni 2015.

Stix & Stones


I know my posts have been few and far between the last couple of weeks. I've found myself wishing there were more hours in the day and yet relieved that there are not. It's busy times like these that challenge my ability to find a balance with everything, but it's also when I remember how important it is to take a step back and be happy with what I've accomplished. Sometimes I think we tend to focus on the few things we didn't do, and forget about the 15 other things we were able to check off the list.

As busy as things are, I am really excited about the next couple of months... photography is really picking up and I promise Up Close & Tasty will have more for you soon. In the midst of shoots, I'm also redesigning my portfolio, and I'll be eager to share it with you when it goes live. 

All this being said, I really wanted to show a sneak peek from a recent shoot I had with a new restaurant that I'm head over heels for. Stix & Stones, located in Burr Ridge, IL is a rustic-chic spot with a very casual and authentic vibe. When you walk in, you're greeted with their open kitchen that has a giant wood-fired oven used to cook all of their pizzas and sandwiches. It smells amazing. They make their dough and mozzarella from scratch everyday and have fridges full of gorgeous, fresh produce. From a variety of pizzas and sandwiches to several beautifully crafted salads, you really can't go wrong here.

Mike and I are heading there this week as a way to break up the week-night routine and practice the art of "calling it a day."  I hope you'll remember to take the time to reward yourself for all the hard work you're doing whether it's for your career, your family or following your dreams... 

So much more to come - stay tuned!

Pizzas in order from top to bottom:
Sausage and Broccolini with fresh mozzarella, tomatoes, basil, evoo
Speck and Egg Pizza with mascarpone, fresh mozzarella, speck, farm fresh egg, sea salt, arugula, evoo
Margherita Pizza with fresh mozzarella, tomatoes, basil, evoo

All Images © Regan Baroni 2015.

Grilled Shishito Peppers

I still remember the first time I tried grilled shishito peppers. Mike and I were living in an apartment in the Ukrainian village neighborhood of Chicago with a very small, shared backyard. We had just enough room for a small garden along the fence line, which happened to be my first real gardening experience. When we went to a local garden nursery, neither of us had heard of the shishito plants for sale there, but since we were limited on garden space, we thought we'd give them a try. 

If you start your garden in mid-May, they will probably be ready around August. They can have a kick to them - not as strong as jalapeño, but stronger than a poblano. They look really shriveled up with lots of curvy grooves. Some even twist into odd shapes. Once you try one, it's hard not to go back for more... just like your favorite bag of chips, but way healthier.

All you do to prepare the shishitos is toss them in a bowl with a little olive oil, salt, pepper and a pinch of red pepper flakes, if you'd like a little extra kick. Throw them on a high heat grill for a couple minutes per side (using tongs to turn them), about 4-5 minutes total. That's it. 

Mike and I had a hard time finding shishitos to plant in our garden earlier this year, so we actually ordered them from Amazon. The plants came fully intact and we recently gathered our first bounty from our garden this weekend. Since it's later in the year, you can also find harvested shishitos at Trader Joes or your local market. 


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All Images © Regan Baroni 2015.

Secret Garden Tasting with Chef Charles Webb


Hats off to Chef Charles Webb...

When C Louise Public Relations invited me to shoot at the Secret Garden Tasting in the Goldcoast neighborhood of Chicago, I was thrilled. Chef Charles is a private chef from Chicago and is well known for his worldly travels that compliment his wide range of culinary flavors and expertise. The tasting was inspired by his most recent trip to Brazil and each bite had a unique sweet, spicy and savory element to it. I hadn't tasted flavors quite like this before. His food is not only delicious, the presentation is carefully thought through and absolutely beautiful. 

The event was held in the garden of a private home at 1442 North Astor street. It's not everyday that I get to hang out in a home that's selling for six million dollars... the details were inviting and gorgeous. It's safe to say that it's a hidden gem right in the heart of Chicago. 

One of my favorite aspects of the night was that we were free to explore or hang out in the large open kitchen and watch the magic happen. I'm a sucker for an open kitchen. Nathaniel Glossen and Amber James were the sous chefs helping Chef Charles throughout the evening, and they were so welcoming and sweet when we had questions. They were also incredibly patient if we wanted to get "one more photo" of the plated dish before it was served. DJ Madrid kept us all energized with his music and overall, it was a really fun gathering of old and new friends. 

The list of food included:

Grilled Palmito, Catalan Romesco, micro thyme
Catupiry, goiabada, black truffle honey
Linguiça de frango, pimienta bequinho
Frango, pequi crema, sal de salvia

Cachaça braised oxtail, garbanzo puree
Grilled swordfish, fava vovò, cupaçu gel

Filet Mignon, faroffa de oro, chimichurri
Amazonian carnitas, purple potatoes, malagueta aioli
Flourless chocoalte, doce de leite com morango

Cocado quemado com caju bolinhos
Bananada "simples"

Thank you so much, Chef Charles! I hope we meet again someday soon!  And, thank you for inviting me, Caitlin and India! It was a beautiful and delicious evening - you all did an amazing job! xo

All Images © Regan Baroni 2015.

Son of a Butcher Tavern


The name, Son of A Butchersparks an immediate curiosity. This sister restaurant to Pearl Tavern is owned by Adolfo Garcia. Nestled in the Chicago neighborhood of Logan Square, this place brings you a butcher shop experience, along with a "local" menu you might get in a butchers' home. It's definitely not a meat-only menu, although the carnivore in me wouldn't mind if it was. There is a wide variety to please anyone's palette. Chef Frank puts a lot of thought into his dishes and even takes the time to help serve so he can chat with customers and make sure they're enjoying everything. Check out their menu here

Whether you sit inside or out, the laid-back vibe connects well with the vintage details at this cozy spot. From the plates and silver to the antique butcher scale and old-school telephone at the bar, I couldn't help but want to hang out for hours. Everything has its own unique place here.  

As I mentioned, there is outdoor seating plus plenty of comfortable seats at the bar. The high top tables and booths near the floor to ceiling windows in the front fill up fast, but as you walk towards the kitchen and into the back of the restaurant, you'll find another area that almost feels "hidden." There's a bright red booth that expands the length of the room adjacent from a beautiful, hand-painted mural of a small town butcher shop in France that fills up the entire brick wall. It's stunning.

Mike showed up after my shoot so we could stay and enjoy some drinks and dinner together. We bellied-up to the bar and Elise took very good care of us. The food in order of appearance includes: the Duck Heart Nuggets with lavender BBQ and pickled cranberries, the Cochinita Pibil Hummus with pickled onion and charred pita, the Smoked Whole Market Fish with seasonal garnishes, the Roasted Bone Marrow with beet serrano jam and grilled baguette and the Rice Cracklings with salsa verde and pickled vegetables. 

Chef Frank and Adolfo, thank you for having me! I loved learning the story behind your newest adventure. Best of luck and both Mike and I are looking very forward to coming back for the cochon brunch


All Images © Regan Baroni 2015.

Grilled Oysters with Bacon and Cayenne Butter

When in doubt, add butter with some bacon and cayenne... Mike and I have been on a seafood grilling kick lately and this recipe has been in our hearts for quite a while. We've made it several times for friends and family and it attracts even the most skeptical of seafood eaters (including my own mom who wouldn't touch an oyster with a ten-foot pole).

The butter will make a lot and you'll probably have some left over. You can store it in the freezer and use it on chicken, pork, steak, seafood or even toast. It's pretty magical on oysters, though... you'll see.  


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All Images © Regan Baroni 2015.