Katherine Anne Confections Launch Party

If you live in (or visit) Chicago and you havent checked out Katherine Anne Confections yet, its about time you did.  Katherine Anne has been dreaming up, creating and selling amazing locally-sourced truffles, caramels and marshmallows since 2006.  Its an absolute tragedy that I didnt find out about her and her shop until last year.  But since I attended my first truffle party Ive been an evangelical follower of her creative confiserie.

This is a woman who has truly followed her passion.  She started creating caramels using cream produced by her familys Wisconsin dairy farm at age ten and slowly grew her business until it launched as Katherine Anne Confections in 2006.  Katherine uses local ingredients and partners with local chefs to create some of the most interesting and unusual flavor profiles Ive ever encountered using chocolate or otherwise.

About a week ago I attended my first confection launch party since Katherine opened retail sales at the confiserie. The launch parties are an incredible value: for $25 you get access to the production space at the confiserie where up to 15 flavors of truffles, marshmallows and caramels are set up for sampling.  You also get wine and savory snacks to help you balance out all of the sweet.  Its a great weekday event because the party is open-house style, with attendees arriving and leaving at their leisure.  You can stay a little while or, as far as I know, for the entire three hour event.  Ill warn you, though these ultra-premium sweets are intense.  Im rarely able to sample more than one small bite of each!

The confiserie itself is impossibly charming, decorated with navy blue embossed walls, heart-backed wrought iron chairs and an enticing display of sweets and treats.  Theres a crystal chandelier hanging over a moss green setee and chair set where I imagine myself on a cold day luxuriating over a cup of drinking chocolate that was voted one of the Best Things We Ate and Drank in 2012 by TimeOut Chicago magazine.  The cold version theyre serving up for the summer months is curiously rich and delicious without seeming overly heavy a mean feat to accomplish when serving it up in 95 degree heat in the Chicago summer.

I really hope that Katherine has her eye on an Edgewater location. Logan Square is just not easy enough to get to for me to go as often as Id like!  Until then, if you want to meet me check out the schedule for Katherines confection launch parties.  Im sure to be there.


Meeting Nigella

Thats me on the left, all gussied up and shiny.  On the right?  Thats Nigella Lawson.  Yep.  Sure is.  I met Nigella.

How I came to meet Nigella is quite ordinary: I bought a ticket.  If you love Nigella you probably know that she released Nigellissima, her ninth cookbook, back in late winter/early spring of this year.  So when I heard that Nigellas U.S. book tour would bring her to nearby Milwaukee, I bought a ticket immediately.

Now Im not usually one to get all excited about celebrity.  I dont care much about movie stars or television stars or rock stars.  If I saw one in the grocery store Id be far more likely to ask if they know whether this store carries Cento tuna rather than get all starry-eyed and excited.  Nigella, on the other hand, sent me into full-on tittering celebrity watch, counting the days until I would go to Milwaukee (in a predicted snowstorm, no less) to eat food and drink wine and meet my celebrity chef heroine.

I got to Milwaukee a bit early on the evening of the event and spent an hour milling around the Milwaukee Public Market which, if you get the chance to go, houses an incredible array of culinary wonders from Wisconsin cheese (natch), olive oil and vinegar tasting at Oro di Oliva, great shiny everlasting gobstoppers and a Spice House location that made me swoon.  My phone was in grave danger of running out of battery without so much as a single picture of Nigella, so I took far fewer photos at the market than I would have liked.  I wish Id gotten a shot of the Iberico ham leg or the incredible flowers and coffees.

The event was a dinner prepared from Nigellas newest cookbook a compilation of her favorite Italian recipes.  Italian cooking is some of my favorite cooking, so I was thrilled.  The venue, The Grain Exchange in Milwaukee, was beautiful.  A large ballroom with maybe two dozen tables all beautifully prepared for the meal.

I took my seat and met my tablemates just before Nigella arrived with great pomp and celebration.  She wore the same dress she appears in on the cover of her book and looked positively radiant.  She took up a glass of wine immediately and started circulating to the tables.  When Nigella came to our table, I worried I might cry.  Seriously.  Thats how excited I was to meet this woman.  Nigella chided me that I shouldnt cry because shed feel like a terrible person if I did.  I laughed and took a few photos before Nigella was whisked away to the next table.  I wished Id had more time to talk to her, but no matter.  It was time to eat!

First course: white truffle mac n cheese.  Oooey-gooey truffle-laced deliciousness.  So good.
Second course: Brick Chicken and Roasted Brussels Sprouts.  Chicken cooked flat in a pan with a brick resting on it to crisp the skin on all sides simultaneously.  Just delicious.
Third course: Minted Lambchops with Arugula and Roasted Potatoes.  Lambchops frenched and marinated in a minty mixture before heading to the oven with olive oil laced baby potatoes.  Unbelievable.

Dessert!  Orange-infused Chocolate Mousse and Orange-Almond Biscotti.  Ive always hated biscotti because its usually dry as bone and hard as stone.  This biscotti was moist, soft, delicious.
I headed home to Chicago at about 9:30 that night, a little worried that the predicted storm would start at any moment.  As I drove off the highway and along residential and side streets toward home, the snow started to fall lightly.  It was a perfect evening with good food, good company and a chance to meet my culinary heroine.
Ill always remember meeting Nigella.