The Perfect Summer Cake

peach cake“a simple white cake, made with fresh peaches, just in time for summer”

peachesOvercome by the smell of fresh peaches at the market this week, I decided to take home a half dozen and work out a new dessert. Usually Chef Virginia Willis’ cobbler recipe (“Meme’s Cobbler,” Bon Appetit Y’all, 10 Speed Press) is my go to for any fresh summer fruit.  But recently while traveling I had an really fantastic peach cake. It was very light, not to sweet, and through it’s simplicity it let the flavor of the fresh peaches shine. That dessert was front of mind when I began work. I started with a basic white cake recipe and integrated peaches, cut into medium sized chunks, and all of the residual juice and pulp. In the oven the cake rose terrifically, creating the light and airily effect I was looking for. Plus cake was super moist – with an almost pudding like consistency. I finished the dessert with a very simple white butter cream frosting and I served it slightly warm with vanilla ice cream.  A huge hit.

The recipe follows: Continue reading

Fried Chicken & Fixin’s for Jen’s 40th

fried chicken“Buttermilk Fried Chicken, with all the trimmings, the center of a festive 40th birthday celebration for Dr. Kim.”

Jen at TableWe’ve held three fortieth Birthday parties at The Richmond in as many years. Themes have ranged from a Staten Island BBQ to a Throwback Fraternity House Mixer. So for my dear friend Jennifer Kim, I was challenged to forge a new route. I wanted to host a casual Sunday event where many different people from all factions of her life could interact in a meaningful way and have fun. Since everyone (including Jen) goes crazy for my Buttermilk Fried Chicken, a recipe and process adapted over many years (with a lot of influence from my Mississippi grandmother), so that seemed like a natural menu choice. Who doesn’t like fried chicken? I’ve even seen vegetarians fight over one of my drumsticks. So from there the Fried Chicken & Fixin’s Brunch was hatched (pun intended).

Sides MontageAs good as the Chicken is (and it is good – more about that later), any successful picnic (indoors or out) it is all about the sides. Because I was cooking for 50 people – I wanted to make sure I had guaranteed hits on my table. For this reason the four I picked were all tried and true classics. First up Buttermilk and Dill Potato Salad with a garnish of sliced boiled eggs (thanks Martha). Next, Creamy BBQ Peanut Coleslaw (it sounds strange but this combo really works). Then Pesto Pasta Salad with Peas and Pine Nuts is always a hit (thanks Ina). And no authentic Southern gathering would be complete without Crustless Pimento Cheese Sandwiches on White Bread (thanks Mom). Judging from the empty serving bowls, and the 4 dozen pimento cheese sandwiches which were gone in a flash, I was four for four here. I love it when there are no leftovers – so following the recipe’s serving sizes I planned on a half portion per guest. And as the host this menu worked well for me too. I deliberately chose recipes which could be made earlier that morning and refrigerated or where the components could be prepped ahead of time and combined at the last minute. This was critical – as I had almost 100 pieces of Chicken to fry.

imageThe secret to great Fried Chicken is mostly process driven. My late Grandmother Wanda’s bird was the blue ribbon standard in my family. A few years before she passed away I called her specifically to talk Fried Chicken. I had done a lot of research and seen that many chefs recommended frying the chicken until it was just lightly brown and then finishing it in the oven for about a half hour. This allowed for simultaneous serving and a more uniform cooking process. I expected my Grandmother to shudder at this notion – as I had only seen her tending chicken one piece at a time. Instead she told me this was the way her mother cooked fried chicken when she was growing up on a small farm in Iowa. This was the only endorsement I needed. And after many batches I can now attest that the process works (bring the chicken out of the oven when the internal temperature in the breast reaches 160 degrees).

My other Secrets for Fabulous Fried Chicken:

  1. Brine the chicken overnight in buttermilk and salt to guarantee moistness and infuse flavor (I also add Crystal Hot Sauce to add a slight kick).
  2. The paper bag method works. Combine the flour and seasonings in a paper grocery bag, drop the pieces in one by one, shake to coat. This a sure a sure fire way to uniformly coat each piece – and the bags make clean up a breeze.
  3. After you have it coated put the chicken back in the fridge on racks in baking trays and refrigerate for a half hour. This allows the coating to set and adhere to the chicken.
  4. Nothing works better for your frying process than a cast iron skillet and peanut oil. The cast iron keeps the temperature of the oil uniform and insulates the chicken from the flame. The high flash point of peanut oil keeps that burnt flour flavor away. I use a candy thermometer to keep my oil around 360 degrees throughout frying process.
  5. Use the best chicken you can find. All natural chicken (I prefer the antibiotic and hormone free variety at Whole Foods) is the key component to insuring great chicken flavor. I cut the breasts in half to allow for more manageable and uniform pieces.
  6. And finally select a great sous chef. For this party it was my good friend Sarah Brick – who did a smashing job. It for sure takes two people to keep this process moving along.

Custom Cocktail NapkinA few more touches made the day memorable. The pre-made Strawberry Limeade served in a glass canister on the bar was a hit – allowing people to add vodka or champagne as they liked. To keep things festive I had Custom Cocktail and Luncheon Napkins made for the occasion at For Your Party. They have an winning assortment and their real time design tool is fantastic. Having another friend handle the cake (kudos Amy Waldon who chose an excellent one from Deerfield’s Bakery) allowed me focus on the main course. And to keep things easy, I used Disposable Bamboo Plates which looked chic and minimized clean-up. But the real secret to the party’s success was the guest of honor. A true friend to many, she inspired the very best from all of us on her big day. Happy fortieth Dr. Kim.


48 Hours in London Town


“Last fall, prior to heading to Paris for the fashion market, Jim and I did a quick 48 in London to check out what was happening on the retail scene”

Kusama at SelfridgesIn many ways London is the place to look for the last vestiges of the great old-school department store. These institutions remain alive and well in this city center. We plotted our route to tour all the majors, and as was the case during our visit five years ago, Selfridges came out on top. From the amazing displays celebrating the collaboration between Louis Vuitton and the Japanese pop artist Yayoi Kusma (with her larger-than-life effigy heralding visitors into the main entrance of a building wrapped in her signature red and white dots) to the impeccably designed designer “shop-in-shops” (Tom Ford and Celine were especially remarkable), everything at Selfridges seemed to hold a pristine shine. Harvey Nichols felt a bit stuck in the late 90s, but it still boasts a well curated vendor assortment – especially on the women’s contemporary floor. Harrods remains quintessentially Harrods – more is more – with maybe the best assortment of men’s shoes on the planet. And at often over-looked Fenwick we came across a very strong assortment of well priced costume jewelry and a wonderfully creative women’s dress line we will add to our assortment at space519 for spring. Liberty remains the sentimental favorite – there is just nothing like walking through their fresh flower market on the way into the store – with all the scents of the season enveloping you. Their apothecary section is tops – with a winning assortment of products at all price levels. And I also especially loved their scarf bazaar and the creative assortment of vintage furniture retooled with their signature Liberty of London fabrics.

Wolf and BadgerFor specialty stores Brown’s has a impressive roster of emerging and established designers, but the main store on South Molton needs a brush-up. The well worn carpets and walls distract from the merchandise. Dover Street Market is worth checking out – but the industrial minimalist displays, art installations and effected salespeople all read a bit dated. On the other extreme Wolf and Badger (pictured right) had a well curated assortment of hard to find men’s and women’s accessories and the manager Joshua was delightful to chat with. The Conran Shop is alive and well in the UK and their shop in Chelsea has a really neat selection of modern home goods. Jim made a detour to The Refinery to find men’s skincare products he can’t buy in the states. And finally we both loved the well priced men’s and women’s pieces at Margaret Howell.

Rules Restaurant LondonAnd it can’t all be about shopping. Our hotel, The Pelham London, provided a chic and comfortable home-base for walking everywhere (and their head concierge Jamie had the very best tips). Our big night out was entirely old school. Pre-dinner martini’s in the art deco Beaufort Bar at the Savoy Hotel were it is 1930s Hollywood glamour all the way. I couldn’t stop staring at the Lalique lighting fixtures or the exceptionally well dressed clientele And dinner at Rules (pictured left) hit all the high points. With the strength of the pound the tab was a bit crushing, but I literally felt as if I was sitting in the midst of a Merchant Ivory production. The oriental carpeting, red leather tufted banquettes, and walls covered with art and memorabilia from the two plus centuries they have been in business, create an unbeatable ambiance. The food is traditional British fare and all of it was exceptionally well executed. A delightful split pea soup, beef raised on the restaurant’s own estate served with chips and Bearnaise sauce, and a text book quality sticky toffee pudding. The tuxedo clad waiters had the perfect touch and the intimate upstairs bar was perfect for a nightcap by the fireplace.

All and all, a perfect journey to what has to be my all time favorite city.

Bake This: Italian Olive Oil Cake

olive oil cake“pignoli, olive oil, and polenta give this cake its special twist”

cake sliceEarlier this month I hosted some friends and family at The Richmond to collaborate and cook an Italian Sunday supper. We made some terrific traditional Italian dishes like Eggplant Parmesan and Homemade Meatballs with our own sauce (or “gravy” to my east coast readers). With such a heavy menu, I wanted to end the meal with something a bit lighter. I also wanted to stick with the Italian theme. My mind went back to an olive oil cake, served with vanilla gelato, which I recently enjoyed a local restaurant. I loved the complex flavor and texture of the dessert.  However, a first pass for a recipe in some favorite Italian cookbooks came up dry. So I began to do some research on-line about Olive Oil Cakes and there I found and sorted through dozens of recipes.

Popular in Italy, this style of cake has true Mediterranean origins.  It makes sense that this cake would come from a region where olive oil is so plentiful.  In Northern Italy the cake is a staple in small coffee shops – often paired with an  espresso as a mid-afternoon snack.  Many of the recipes I came across utilized orange as a key flavor – introducing liquor, candied orange rinds or orange zest into the recipe.  I am not a fan of orange flavored desserts so I decided to use lemon zest and vanilla extract to flavor my cake.  I also liked the how some of the recipes included corn meal (or polenta) to give the cake a bit more texture.  I felt this would provide a solid balance to the silky smoothness of the olive oil.  Finally, I added pine nuts as a topper – both to introduce another texture/flavor to the cake and because I love them.

My recipe was a success and the cake a crowd pleaser. Enjoy at room temperature, or warm it slightly and serve it with ice cream or gelato.  It  works equally well when served as a breakfast pastry, a snack or as the encore after a rich meal. (recipe follows)

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Doe’s and the Delta

Does Eat Place in Greenville Mississippi

doe's eat place greenville mississippiMuch of my family hails from Mississippi. On a recent visit down south I led a sojourn up to the Delta for a visit to the legendary steak joint Doe’s Eat Place in Greenville Mississippi. Doe’s seems to consistently merit a spot on many a national top steak house list (from Gayot Guides to Bon Appetit). They have been lauded by the nation’s top food writers and even won a coveted James Beard Award in 2007.  In fact delta lore reports that people have come from as far as London to specifically eat at Doe’s. So it is no surprise that I have been intrigued by this small family restaurant deep in rural Mississippi and the legendary status it has attained. Lucky for me my partner Jimmy, my mom Lucie, and my surrogate sister, and fellow foodie, Amanda Puck ( were willing to come along for the ride.

Does Eat Place started in 1903 as a grocery store in a small house, one literally situated on the wrong side of the tracks. In 1941 Big Doe Signa retired from bootlegging and converted the small family grocery into a honky tonk where his wife Maime also sold her signature tamales. Pretty soon thereafter Doe started serving local doctors dinner between their area house calls. He cooked them steaks on a large open gas broiler. Word spread about the steaks and soon the Honky Tonk was closed and the eat place was born.

Interior Does Eat Place Greenville MississippiDoe and Maime have since passed away, but today their sons run the business and have franchised the concept into other Southern cities.  But the Greenville location remains as if preserved in time, featuring the same limited menu of 8 items; beef hot tamales, fried or broiled shrimp, garlic bread, chili, a house salad with their own signature dressing, and steaks grilled to order served with hand cut french fries. You enter Doe’s through the back kitchen where the giant broiler is roaring and sit in one of two dining areas – a larger room with a working service kitchen in the in the center or a smaller dining room with larger tables.

After driving for an hour across the delta from our hotel in Greenwood (the amazingly posh and chic Alluvian) we were seated in the smaller dining room. To say the place is run down would be understatement. However although it is poor in appearance, it is rich in charm. The tables are covered in mismatched vinyl cloths and the walls in Delta ephemera. Our waitress was not rich in charm – but her gritty no-nonsense attitude seemed to suit the place perfectly.

Hot Tamales Does Eat Place Greenville MississippiShe inquired if we needed menus – a “we don’t take kindly to newcomers” battle cry that I also recently experienced at another legendary steak house, Peter Luger’s in Brooklyn (also, like Does, a James Beard Award Winner).  We did not, we had already formed our game plan in the car ride over.  We started with a few bottled beers (the only liquor on the menu – but you are also free to bring your own) and a half dozen hot tamales. These tamales were unlike any I had experienced at home in Chicago or during my childhood growing up around a lot of Mexican food in Colorado. But in this case different was delicious.  Unlike most tamles, which are wrapped in corn husks, these came in sheets of parchment paper tied with string.  They were skinny like cigars, light on corn (white meal vs. masa) but rich in a chili like beef filling. The juice from the steam pot covered the wrappers and our fingers – which everyone seemed to be licking unceremoniously. They were phenomenal.

Fried Shrimp Does Eat Place Greenville MississippiNext a basket of shrimp – each delicately fried, with a minimal amount of batter, allowing their fresh flavor to shine through. Quickly the basket was empty. Then the salads – a house specialty – chunks of iceberg lettuce tossed in ancient wooden bowls rubbed with a garlic and hand dressed with fresh lemon juice and olive oil.  I’m sad to report the salads were a disappointment.  The dressing was tasty but the lettuce had completely wilted in the hot kitchen and sogged out under the weight of the dressing.

What the salads lacked the steaks more than made up for.  We ordered both a giant Porterhouse and a Filet to share.  The Filet was delicious and perfectly cooked. But the Porterhouse was what really shined. The meat was a perfect cut, cooked to an ideal medium rare, dripping with natural juices, tender with a tasty seared crust.  Despite being half the price, it easily whipped the Porterhouse I had in January at the aforementioned New York steakhouse. Moaning definitely occurred during our dinner and I for sure had to wrestle my table-mates for a knife to cut the last remaining bits off the bone.  The french fries were equally stellar.  It is literally one cook’s responsibility to make the hand cut fries in small batches and fry them to order in individual cast iron skillets.  A labor of love that is evident in finished product.

Porterhouse Does Eat Place Greenville MississippiWe also commandeered an order of garlic bread after seeing a plate piled high headed to another table.  It turned out to be another example of simplicity executed perfectly – crisp and garlicky outside – pillowy soft inside.

As we reluctantly pushed ourselves away from the table locals were still streaming in. And when I was paying the check our waitress popped over and opened an ancient frigadare next to the register.  It was packed with boxes of old school ice cream sandwiches and she told me to help myself.  Perhaps it was a truce or a testament to the fact that we had played by the rules; no finicky requests or pretentious behavior. Regardless, I accepted. And I swear she may have even cracked the smallest smile.

Doe's Eats Place Sign at Night Greenville Mississippi Lance LawsonAs we walked out to the parking lot eating the ice cream sandwiches wrapped in wax paper, a group of the restaurant’s African American cooks were lined up outside taking a smoke break.  “Y’all ain’t from around here are you?” one questioned. My mother, a native, protested, but I secretly wished I was, because what I really wanted to be was a regular.


Doe’s Eat Place
502 Nelson Street, Greenville, MS

Sprouting up at the Botanic Gardens

Booth“a pair of re-imagined chairs receive a dramatic debut”

Chairs beforeLast weekend I had a terrific time participating in the Chicago Botanic Garden’s “Antiques and Garden Fair.” I was invited to provide the furnishings/set for the “Style Blogger Panel” held at the fair that Saturday. From there I decided to take on a booth and put together a small space519 pop-up for the weekend; prominently showcasing a few furniture items I had scouted for the occasion (pictured above).  Central in this dual effort were a pair of Square Chairs circa 1960s. The chairs came to me from Coyle and Herr (a most favorite resource run by my friend MB Coyle and her partner Dot Herr). They were found in a Lake Shore Drive apartment – covered in dated green and white polka dots  – and most certainly surrounded by loads of chintz (pictured above, bottom left). However, when I first saw them I instantly recognized that they had great lines and solid construction. Back in my workshop the chairs were completely reworked.  First order, I removed the skirting around the bottom and had the legs stained dark black. Next up the chairs were completely reupholstered in a felted grey Ralph Lauren flannel. As always, my upholsterer did a masterful job – maintaining the overall square effect of the chairs while softening things a bit through the subtle curved lines on the cushion. These Chairs received a lot of attention throughout the fair and found a great home on Chicago’s North Shore. Not bad for a pair of old bitties.

imageFor the blogger panel set (pictured above) I paired the Square Chairs with a few other great pieces.  An Gilded Italian Rope Coffee Table circa 1960s, a vintage Iron Chair with Moroccan Details and Brass Finials (enhanced by two new midnight blue velvet cushions), a pair of circa 1970s Victorian style Elephant Garden Stools (which I had restored by the folks at Broken Art Restoration), and a Teak “Hand Chair” (an homage to the style made famous by noted Mexican artist Pedro Friedeberg), and some great Hand Painted Throw Pillows from designer John Robshaw.

medium_reedhambiscuitsThe panel was a huge hit with solid design observations from The Peak of Chic’s Jennifer BolesStylebeat’s Marisa Marcantonio, and design historian Emily Evans Eerdmans. But the discussion was certainly dominated by the moderator, the ever-amusing Julia Reed (noted writer, Southerner, cook, Garden & Gun contributor, and a generally savvy lady). Things scribbled in my notebook while she talked: Marshall Biscuits, Sister Schubert Yeast Rolls, Spinach Madeline, VD Spinach, Tomato Aspic and Reed’s cookbook, Ham Biscuits, Hostess Gowns, and Other Southern Specialities. So typical of me, listening to a panel about home design and all I focused on was the food.

botanic gardensWhat a terrific spring weekend.  If you haven’t been to the Antiques and Garden Fair it is well worth attending. They have a remarkable mix of vendors in a truly gorgeous setting. Look for us at the garden again next spring, we are already thinking about our booth enhancements for 2014.  And in the meantime, since spring seems to finally be upon us, head to The Chicago Botanic Gardens for some terrific botanical inspiration. I was really taken by the green houses, filled with lush plants and trees in widely varying hues of green accented with small pops of color throughout (see photograph left ).  Perhaps I’ll even vary my all green and white outdoor color scheme at The Richmond this summer.  After all, a man can not live on box hedges alone.


Chicago Botanic Gardens
1000 Lake Cook Road
Glencoe, IL 60022
(847) 835-5440