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Vegetable Pesto Panini

Dear readers, I promise I am not “punking out” by offering you an idea for a sandwich. This is an exceedingly delicious sandwich. It also has just seven ingredients, can be made in 10 minutes and satisfies the need for hot comfort food on a cold winter day.

One more disclaimer: we do not usually eat sandwiches for dinner. In fact, I can probably count on one hand, the number of sandwich dinners I have had in the past year. Because I pack dinner leftovers for lunch, I don’t usually eat sandwiches for lunch either, hence why they are kind of novel as part of my dinner rotation.

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Parsley Walnut Pesto

I hope you’re off to a great start with your holiday cooking and baking! I’m getting ready to make Christmas cookies soon, and with all those sugary treats at parties, work and school, easy, nourishing dinners are a must.

This is one of my favorite recipes for pesto. First, I love it because I can make a big batch, jar it, and stick it in the freezer for a night when I’m short on time. Or I just slice off some frozen pesto to make a pizza or add to a soup or dressing. Pesto is a perfect sauce to have on hand to bring bright and satisfying flavors. Second, this recipe uses parsley and walnuts instead of basil and pine nuts—much more affordable and accessible even as winter approaches.

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Simple Shaker Apple Cake

I love to make simple desserts. On a weeknight, dessert is a treat, so having some easy, standby dessert recipes is essential. And even on Sunday night, having something sweet after dinner makes those Monday blues easier to swallow.

In the summer, I tend to make lots of fruit crisps, but as winter approaches, I want my cake and coffee. A few years ago, I set aside an easy apple cake recipe, and I just recently had a chance to bake it and share it with our generous neighbors who came to the rescue when I had locked myself out of our building.

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Caramelized Shallot Spaghetti

Life has certainly gotten in the way of posting lately, and when life is busy, I turn to the most comforting of foods: pasta. I was home in New Jersey for the weekend when I decided to make dinner, and I really had to work to convince my mom that there was something in her house that would satisfy our need for a tasty and easy meal.

My mom just happened to have a dozen shallots on hand, some garlic, spaghetti and bushes of fresh parsley out in the garden. It might not sound like it at first, but trust me: this dish is so tasty you might even start purposefully keeping a dozen shallots on hand. I even managed to convince my “I need lots of sauce on my pasta” dad that this was something delicious and totally worth eating.

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Cooking School: Exotic India

When my friend Karen e-mailed me last week to say she had a free spot to an Indian cooking class, I couldn’t say no. I rearranged my schedule to meet her at World Kitchen downtown, in a below-ground semi-commercial kitchen/cooking school run by the City of Chicago. The whole experience reminded me again of the many hidden-gems of places, food and experiences that I have yet to explore in this city.

I was one of the few class members who had not been shopping on Devon Avenue the weekend before in preparation for the hands-on learning in the kitchen. While I’ve eaten and shopped along Devon Avenue before—usually ducking in a store for a giant bag of cumin seeds or coriander that cost $1.99 instead of the tiny $5 or $8 jars in Jewel or Dominick’s—I am now armed with a list of new bakeries and restaurants to try. And this weekend, I even made a quick trip to Patel Bros. for some new spices to cook the booklet of recipes I got to take home from the class.

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Pumpkin Gnocchi with Sage and Brown Butter

I can probably count on my hands the number of times I’ve eaten gnocchi. Somewhere along the way, I believe I was instilled with “gnocchi fear,” that the little potato-pasta dumplings on my plate would be something gummy and gross and sit like lead bullets at the bottom of my stomach. The fear is well-founded; for every excellent plate of gnocchi in this world, there are probably five that should never be served.  All of which made gnocchi something I was curious—but a bit nervous—to make myself.

Like pasta, gnocchi has a short ingredient list of potato, Parmesan, egg, salt and flour. It takes a careful hand—not too much mixing, kneading and handling—and the confidence to work with slightly sticky dough.

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