Raw Corn & Cashew Chowder

Thank you to everyone for all of your kind words after I was robbed in December. I was especially moved that a few of you even offered to contribute to a new camera fund. I’m happy to say that I was finally able to replace my camera on my own, even though I am incredibly grateful for the generous offers.

A lot has changed over the last few months. I’m happy to be back in my old neighborhood in Chicago after grad school. I love my work and my ever-growing professional network. I met excellent people at the Midwest UX conference in June and the Chicago UX Book Club has continued to be fun and thought-provoking.

I spent a lovely long weekend in the Bay Area in May and I’m heading on my annual Glacier backpacking trip with my Dad in a few weeks. The summer has been busy with six weddings and various out-of-town guests. But, I’ve still found the time to slow down with warm evenings on restaurant patios and a picturesque sailboat ride on Lake Michigan

In addition to my new camera, my other large purchase over the last six months was finally acquiring a fancy blender. I’d coveted a Vitamix for half a decade, but after quite a bit of research I decided on a Blendtec blender and I couldn’t be happier with my choice. I have kale smoothies every morning and I’ve recently fallen in love with this raw summer soup.

Raw Sweet Corn, Cashew & Avocado Chowder


4 ears sweet corn
1/2 C raw cashews
1 avocado
1 1/2 garlic cloves
4 Tbl good olive oil
1 1/2 C water
2 tsp kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper


Husk the corn and remove the silk. In a large shallow bowl, stand the corn on an end cut off the kernals with a sharp knife. Set aside half a cup of corn kernals. Combine the remaining kernals and the rest of the ingredients in your blender, and blend until very smooth. (I used the “soup” setting on my Blendtec.) Adjust the seasoning as desired.

Pour the soup into bowls and top with the reserved corn kernals and a bit more black pepper. Serve at room temperature, or chill if preferred.

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Erin O'Brien - First of all, I’m SO happy you have a new camera! (Jerks.)
Second, it sounds like you’ve had a fabulous summer! And I hear things are going very, very well work-wise. I know you’re a very hard worker, determined, but even with that you’re incredibly lucky (but deserving!) to be doing what you enjoy.
Third, that chowder looks nothing short of delicious. YUM.

Alison - So glad to see you are back! This sounds perfect for hot summer days!

Sutapa - Hi,
I came across your blog through Orangette. I like it. But would prefer you increase the font size of the text.Its too small and I need to look hard at the screen. It will benefit the readers. Thanks.

Rosemary, Black Pepper & Brown Butter Soda Bread

I’m saving up, but I’m still without a camera. Early spring in Chicago is one of my favorite times for photography. It makes me sad that some hooligan is out there with my stolen camera while I am missing out.

On a happier note, I decided to pull one of my favorite spring recipes from the archives just in time for St. Patrick’s Day. Enjoy!

This wonderful recipe was suggested by my friend Joanna.  I liked the idea of adding rosemary, fresh black pepper and browned butter to this quick bread base to create a decidedly non-traditional version.

The end result of the recipe was wonderful. A few notes: I found that my dough was quite wet after following the instructions, so I ended up adding about half a cup more flour than the original recipe calls for. Be sure to have a some extra flour on hand so that you can get the texture just right. You want a moist dough that just comes together in your hands.  I didn’t knead this bread at all. I simply mixed the dough in the bowl until it formed a smooth ball and then formed the loaves.

Rosemary, Black Pepper & Brown Butter Soda Bread

Adapted from Bon Appetit


1/4 C butter
3 1/2 C flour, plus 1/2 C
1/2 C old-fashioned oats
1 Tbl sugar
1 Tbl fresh rosemary, chopped
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
3/4 tsp black pepper, freshly ground
1 3/4 C buttermilk


Place a baking stone in your oven and preheat oven to 375F.  (Don’t worry if you don’t have a baking stone, you can simply use an ungreased baking sheet. Don’t place it in the oven as it heats. If you’d like a baking stone, check out this great post on making your own for $3.)

Melt butter in skillet over medium heat and cook until golden brown and fragrant, about 3 minutes. Set aside.

In a large bowl, combine all the ingredients except the buttermilk and butter.  Mix well and add the buttermilk and butter.  Mix until the dough comes together in a smooth ball. Add more flour if you need it (I did). Form dough into two rounds with your hands and transfer to the baking stone or baking sheet. Using a sharp knife, cut an “X” in the top of each loaf – about 1/2 an inch deep.

Bake until breads are a deep golden brown and a toothpick comes out clean when inserted in the center — about 45 minutes.  Allow to cool for a least 30 minutes before slicing. Serve with plenty of high quality butter.

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Nishta - so happy to have a new post from you! I always love hearing what you’re up to–this bread looks beautiful, and I will make it along the colcannon we always have for St. Patrick’s Day (I’m nowhere close to Irish, but Jill’s family is).

Nishta - so happy to have a new post from you! I always love hearing what you’re up to–this bread looks beautiful, and I will make it along the colcannon we always have for St. Patrick’s Day (I’m nowhere close to Irish, but Jill’s family is).

tara - what a gorgeous bread! I’ve never tried a soda bread with herbs, and this makes me want to change that.

rebecca - looks delicious. i can’t wait to try this. drat. must get buttermilk though.

Michelle - Rosemary never fails any recipe. I am eager to try your recipe. I am a bread eater!

Pumpkin Pancakes & 7 Years of Pro Bono Baker

I’m sincerely touched by all of the kind emails I received after my last post. Today marks the seventh anniversary for Pro Bono Baker (!) and I’m grateful for all of the friends and opportunities this little blog has introduced me to over the years.

I’m still without a camera and expect to be for at least a few more months (student debt is my priority now that I have graduated and, thankfully, found a job). My camera rarely left my side and it’s been an adjustment to be without it. My first impulse when enjoying a well-plated brunch or seeing a beautiful sunset is to reach for it. Luckily, I have a few posts saved up to share with you. These shots are from November and December in Champaign just before I moved.

Part of me still feels like I’ll be heading back to Champaign after winter break. I’m getting settled in Chicago and it has been wonderful to reconnect with old friends, restaurants, and neighborhoods. But, I know I will miss many people and the easy pace of central Illinois when the semester starts again.

It’s hard to believe that seven years have past since I started this blog. I am truly grateful to have had the opportunity to share this part of my life with so many of you. I wish you all the very best in the new year!

Pumpkin Pancakes

Adapted from Chef Kenny Shopsin


1 3⁄4 C flour
3 Tbl sugar
1 Tbl ground cinnamon
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp ground cloves
1 tsp ground ginger
1⁄2 tsp kosher salt
1⁄4 tsp ground allspice
1 C canned pumpkin purée
1 C heavy cream
1⁄2 C milk
2 eggs, lightly beaten
6 Tbl canola oil
Butter and maple syrup, for serving


Whisk together the flour, sugar, cinnamon, baking powder, cloves, ginger, salt, and allspice. Add the pumpkin purée, cream, milk, and eggs and whisk everything until the batter is fairly smooth (don’t go too crazy though).
Heat one tablespoon of oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Pour a quarter-cup of batter into the skillet for each pancake, cooking two to four at a time depending on the size of your pan. Cook the pancakes until bubbles begin to form on the edges, about two minutes. Flip and cook for another one to two minutes on the other side.
Repeat with the remaining oil and pancake batter. Serve hot with butter and syrup.

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Andrea - Happy anniversary from a 5 year (at least) lurker. Thank you for sharing your recipes and your photos over the years. I have loved your site for a long time. Happy new year!

Hannah - Congratulations Gemma! And sorry to hear about what happened in Chicago :( I was hoping Santa would provide you with a new one.

Olivia - Congrats on the anniversary from a long time lurker! Happy New Year!

heather - It’s not hard to believe you’ve been going so strong for so long at PBB. Your photography continues to capture my attention, as do your recipes and style of writing. Congrats on finding a job so quickly out of school!
Cheers to many more years (and the return of a camera),

Erin O'Brien - Wow, seven years – CONGRATS! A major accomplishment that I’m glad is not going unrecognized or uncelebrated.
Love, love the cardinal photo; extremely frame-worthy.
Lastly, I am adding this recipe to my Pinterest To-Cook section. I haven’t made pumpkin pancakes from scratch (thanks to boxed pumpkin pancakes from Trader Joe’s) but you convinced me to try this recipe.
Once again, Happy Anniversary!

Clare - Wow seven years – that’s really incredible! Well done you for dedication, and for inspiring the rest of us! Keep up the good work and here’s to another year (at least) of blogging!

yarnydays - Happy New Year. SEVEN YEARS. wow.
And thanks for the deliciousness. And the pancake recipe.

Molly - Congratulations on 7 great years!!!

Mushroom Soup with Zaprashka

The last month has been an exciting one! I finished graduate school and earned my Master’s in library and information science at the University of Illinois this month. I feel ready to leave, but Champaign, Illinois grew on me more than I expected. I learned a lot about myself and how I want to use my education, I met great friends and colleagues, and I reveled in the markets, theaters, and restaurants of a charming university town. It was sad to pack up and leave this week.

I’m happy to be back home with my parents for the next week and a half, and I have a great job to look forward to in January. I’ll be working as a user experience researcher & designer for a small Chicago company. I will be able to use my librarian side to interact with people and learn about their information needs, use my nerdy side to organize information by developing taxonomies and interaction flows, and use my creative side to incorporate these elements into prototypes and visual designs. The work suits me perfectly.

I also just found out that Pro Bono Baker was voted one of the Top 5 Independent Food Websites/blogs by Chicago’s New City Magazine! I’m incredibly flattered.

The last month has had a few low points to balance all this great news. Just after Thanksgiving I came down with a debilitating tension headache/migraine that left me bed-ridden and full of pain killers and muscle relaxers for the better part of two weeks. The stress of feeling so incapacitated during my last few weeks of school and work didn’t help.

Worst of all, Nick and I were mugged by two jerks as we were leaving brunch at the Publican recently. Nick had just treated me to a lovely meal to celebrate my new job. We’ve spent the last two weeks dealing with the aftermath of police reports, credit checks, and card replacements. They made off with my camera (among other things). So… You might not be seeing too many photos around here for a bit. I’m saving up to replace my Canon 60D body and 50mm f/1.4 lens, but it will be a while. Of course, we are grateful that we weren’t really hurt.

I hope all of you are enjoying some holiday cooking with friends and family. I was recently asked to shoot a photo for Travel + Leisure to include in their slideshow of traditional holiday foods. This Russian soup is one of twelve courses served in early January to celebrate the Holy Supper. The soup is thickened with zaprashka – a roux of oil, flour, and the liquid rendered from sautéing onions. There are a number of different recipes available for this unique soup. It has a strong flavor, thanks to sauerkraut juice, and it is great served with a bit of sour cream and chives or dill.

Mushroom Soup with Zaprashka


1 small onion, diced
5 Tbl vegetable oil (divided)
3 Tbl flour
1 C of mushrooms, cleaned and diced
3/4 C of sauerkraut juice
1 quart of vegetable stock (or water)
1 potato, cubed
salt & pepper


Add 1 tablespoon of oil to a large stockpot over medium/high heat. Add the potatoes and cook until tender. Add the sauerkraut juice and stock and bring to a boil. Simmer for 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, brown the onions in a skillet in 1 tablespoon of oil. Pour off any liquid into a different skillet. Turn off the heat.

After the stock has simmered for 20 minutes add the onions (not the liquid). Begin making the roux by browning the flour in the remaining 3 tablespoons of oil in the skillet along with the onion liquid. Whisk constantly and be careful not to burn. When it is browned, add one cup of the stock and whisk to combine. Pour the mixture into the soup.

Simmer for 15 more minutes and add salt and pepper to taste.

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Rene - I’m so sorry to hear you were mugged! I had a similar experience last year in New York. I hope you are able to relax and regroup over the holidays. Good luck to you in the new year and congrats on the job!

kickpleat - Wow, what a crazy story. Congratulations on graduating and finding a job, but how horrible to be mugged! Hugs and best wishes this holiday!!

Sam - Oh my god! That’s awful. I’m so sorry you lost your camera and had to go through that. I hope everything is okay. I’m glad you have some great good news to temper that experience. Good luck to you with everything.

Ara - Gemma, I’m sickened to hear this. Had no idea from your tweets. Scary. Remember when Ted was mugged and the guy clocked him with a gun? Ugh.
Thrilled to hear all the good news, though. Congratulations (and I hope you get to replace that camera soon)!

Raw Corn & Cashew Chowder » Pro Bono Baker - […] Mushroom Soup with Zaprashka […]

Rosemary, Black Pepper & Brown Butter Soda Bread » Pro Bono Baker - […] Mushroom Soup with Zaprashka […]

Pumpkin Pancakes & 7 Years of Pro Bono Baker » Pro Bono Baker - […] Mushroom Soup with Zaprashka […]

Chard with Olives, Lemon & Mozzarella

Over the weekend I received a call from my friend Ariel. Her community garden was closing up shop for the season, but she had a huge quantity of chard that was still growing. She asked if I would like some of it, and of course I said yes. She came right over with a grocery bag full of beautiful rainbow chard.

I thought about making a stir fry or a savory pie, but something about this late season treat called for a less wintry treatment. Instead, I thinly sliced the raw chard leaves and assembled a flavorful salad with sauteed chard ribs, olives, garlic, lemon, and mozzarella. The result was a gorgeous and richly flavored seasonal dish.

Chard with Olives, Lemon & Mozzarella


1 1/2 lbs chard
2 Tbl olive oil
1/3 C oil-cured black olives, quartered and pitted
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 1/2 Tbl fresh lemon juice
1 Tbl lemon zest
1 C grated fresh mozzarella
salt and pepper


Rinse and dry the chard. Tear the leaves from the ribs (reserve) and slice the ribs into 1/4 inch pieces. Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the olives, garlic, and chard ribs and saute with some salt and pepper for about five minutes or until the ribs are tender. Turn off the heat and set aside.

Take the chard leaves and stack them about five-high. Roll the leaves into cigar shapes and thinly slice crosswise. Toss in a large serving bowl with the lemon juice and lemon zest. Allow to rest for about ten minutes. The lemon juice will make the chard leaves slightly tender.

When the chard rib mixture has cooled to room temperature, add to the salad along with the mozzarella. Toss to combine and add salt and pepper to taste.

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Kalyn - I love the sound of this!

Kalyn - I love the sound of this!

Green Olive Recipes - This looks so beautiful and delicious! I love olives and any recipes that use them. Check out my page with some great olive dish recipes. Thanks for sharing, I can’t wait to try this.

Green Olive Recipes - This looks so beautiful and delicious! I love olives and any recipes that use them. Check out my page with some great olive dish recipes. Thanks for sharing, I can’t wait to try this.

David Chwalisz - So jealous – “She came right over with a grocery bag full of beautiful rainbow chard.” Sigh.

David Chwalisz - So jealous – “She came right over with a grocery bag full of beautiful rainbow chard.” Sigh.

Shannon M. - Fantastic! I always think it’s silly how recipes will state to remove the ribs and discard them, as they’re great in soups and what not, but I hadn’t thought of saute-ing them and adding them back in!
Thanks, as always, for your inspiring recipes! And happy belated 7 years!