They nourished our souls: Cooks of the Year 2010

  • Renee Burns of Arlington Heights

      Renee Burns of Arlington Heights Bob Chwedyk | Staff Photographer

  • Diane Calwell of Grayslake

      Diane Calwell of Grayslake Steve Lundy | Staff Photographer

  • Julie Malambri of Rolling Meadows

      Julie Malambri of Rolling Meadows Bill

  • Dan Peloza and D'arcy Rea of Elmhurst

      Dan Peloza and D'arcy Rea of Elmhurst Bev Horne | Staff Photographer

  • Trisha Pulaski of Carpentersville

      Trisha Pulaski of Carpentersville Christopher Hankins | Staff Photographer

Updated 12/28/2010 11:31 AM

A wise kindergarten teacher once told me that the best parents are nurturers. The best cooks are the same way.

Our Cooks of the Year reach far beyond the basic responsibility of providing nourishment, swirling soups and stews, cookies and pies into their whole-life philosophy.


They want to nurture and pamper their family, friends and neighbors. Cooking is their way of demonstrating love and gratitude, caring for others in times of need and celebrating special occasions.

Today we honor six cooks from among the 51 Cooks of the Week featured throughout the year. It doesn't matter to us if they create Michelin-quality menus or home-style meals. What distinguishes them is full-on enthusiasm and their willingness to share.

Congratulations, and thanks for the recipes.

Renee Burns

Oh, the culinary adventures that Renee Burns' children have had since we checked in with them last May.

Determined to raise three youngsters with adventurous palates, Renee continues to introduce them to new foods and involve them in every stop of the process from choosing produce at the grocery store to harvesting tomatoes from their Arlington Heights garden to helping prepare dinner.

She wants them "to feel like they have ownership" of what they're eating.

When Renee's first video debuted on our website, her daughters, 5 and 6, assumed she had landed a permanent gig on her own cooking show.

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"I overheard one of them telling a friend, 'My mom is a famous cook, you know, she has a show on the Internet.'"

Well girls, Mom stars again today on our website with your favorite mac and cheese recipe. Be sure to tell all your friends.

What new foods have the kids tried? Passion fruit, artichoke, white asparagus and pomegranate. When Mariano's (Fresh Market) opened near us, the kids loved the produce variety. They are each allowed to select one new food item from that section.

Best culinary find? A stoneware baking dish from Pampered Chef; it cleans beautifully and is ideal for my macaroni and cheese.

Culinary goals 2011: My daughters are wonderful eaters; my (toddler) son, however, is giving me a run for the money. My goal is to get him to eat a vegetable that is not pureed.

Gardening news: We had a bumper crop of plum tomatoes; I made sauce for weeks. The kids helped pick, wash and make marinara. It was a treat.

About this recipe: My oldest daughter, who turns 7 next month, was diagnosed with a milk allergy at 11 months. She outgrew it at age 5, but to my dismay, she hated all dairy products! In hopes of introducing her to the wonderful world of cheese, I created this mac 'n cheese with Gouda because it is so mild. She did love it, and now she enjoys many cheeses.


Diane Caldwell

This is just like Diane.

For her book club's holiday party she fussed over a tablescape of fresh pine boughs, tiny, glitter hearts, red-and-white striped candles and sprigs of berries, plus an ambitious, multicourse meal.

"That's me, it's all about the details," says Diane, a program assistant at Frederick School in Grayslake.

And that's what we love about you.

Best culinary find: Maple balsamic dressing from Stonewall Kitchen ( It goes with so many things; the maple softens the balsamic.

Culinary goal: I'm developing a whoopie pie oatmeal cookie with pistachios around the edge. Whoopie pies are so popular now.

Favorite restaurant dish: Seafood Supreme at the Maiden Lake Supper Club, Lakewood, Wis. It's broiled lobster, sauted scallops and baked shrimp with garlic butter sauce.

Newest cookbook: Reed Drummond's, "The Pioneer Woman Cooks." The recipes are the kind of homey, hearty meals I got when I was growing up.

About this recipe: Whoopie pies have become so popular, I took an old dip recipe and gave it my own twist.

Julie Malambri

Julie Malambri's Rolling Meadows kitchen is a laboratory where she pursues her quest for purrrfect recipes.

A veterinary tech specializing in cats, Julie digs in her claws and tests a dish until she discovers the ultimate in flavor and texture.

The third Cook of the Week from her family, Julie shares her video demo today with brother Joe, a noncook she invited as "comic relief."

If you can convert him, Julie, we'll make him number four.

Latest experiments: Recipes with poblano peppers. I grew them for the first time last summer and was amazed at how prolific they were. I have been testing many variations of chicken enchiladas with poblano cream sauce.

Favorite restaurant dish: Pan-grilled tilapia with brown butter and hazelnuts from Pappadeaux in Arlington Heights. They're closing soon (Jan. 20), so I want to learn how to make it.

Favorite restaurant: Naf Naf in Naperville. It's a Middle Eastern restaurant that makes the softest, fluffiest pita I have ever tasted. Everything else is excellent too, and very reasonably priced.

About this recipe: We have it every holiday season. It's very colorful with the red onions and orange. Be sure to start with raw shrimp, otherwise it won't absorb the marinade well.

Dan Peloza and D'arcy Rea

Dan and D'arcy's culinary dedication is way out there, but this sizzling duo has an ambitious endgame.

"Our dream is to travel and write about our culinary finds and adventures," says the futures trader (him) and the dietitian (her).

This Elmhurst couple's devotion to local, organic, sustainable ingredients, endless experimentation and culinary research separates them from the herd.

Long may you rejoice over the perfect pan and grass-fed beef from Wisconsin.

Best culinary adventures 2010: Ribberfest in Madison, Ind., "everywhere" in Connecticut and tracking down food truck grub in Los Angeles.

Best culinary finds 2010: Seafood Watch and Shopgreen, the Smartphone apps that allow us to live more green and sustainable.

Culinary goal for 2011: To rely almost exclusively on our Square Foot Garden for produce. Dan wants to forage for mushrooms, too.

Best restaurant dish: Tagliatelle di Castagna from Piccolo Sogno, Chicago, made with chestnut flour pasta and wild boar ragu … very Northern Italian.

About our recipe: We're always looking for hearty, savory, meat-free dishes. Mushrooms have umami, which satisfies meat lovers; polenta adds that creamy texture.

Trisha Pulaski

We really dig cooks with ambitious, culinary goals.

Roughly a year after resolving to try at least one new recipe a week, Trisha Pulaski is still going strong and already planning next year's project.

"Typically I am not very successful at keeping goals, so I am quite pleased," says the Carpentersville woman.

We are too, especially if she's been trying recipes from these pages.

Favorite new recipes: Dill fingerling potatoes and ground turkey taquitos, baked, not fried.

Culinary goal: To take some cooking classes and learn new techniques; I want to do it all.

Best culinary finds: I learned that I love dill and hate cilantro. My favorite cooking show for the moment is "5 Ingredient Fix" (on Food Network).

Best restaurant dish 2010: The orzo salad at Texas de Brazil. It has the most clean, fresh flavor; it's worth going there just for that.

About this recipe: I substituted lean, ground turkey for beef and bake these rather than frying to make them healthier. Be sure to leave them in the oven long enough to get crisp.