Julie Malambri makes a Garden Fresh Tart
Julie Malambri is a veterinary technician specializing in cats, but when it comes to recipe testing, she's dogged.
The Rolling Meadows owner of three rescue felines loves tweaking ingredients and techniques until she achieves the taste and texture she craves.
It takes time and effort, but it's fun, and you never know what you might discover.
"You always have a chance to make the next one really, really good," she says.
That explains why she'll make batch after batch of cold cucumber soup, trying to replicate the one she fell in love with while working at a crab house in Florida.
Or why she pounced when a co-worker offered her 5 pounds of sour cherries.
"I grabbed a hold and started looking for cherry recipes," says Julie, who called a family friend for ideas and then went online to Epicurious.com to research other recipes.
"I got three pies out of it, and they disappeared quickly," she says.
In the lab now: an old-fashioned buttermilk pie.
Julie enjoys resurrecting vintage recipes from old cookbooks and experimenting with contemporary ingredients, like fresh lemon juice (versus bottled) and fresh herbs (versus dried). Sometimes it works, sometimes it's difficult to recreate the same taste, but the process is as much fun as the results.
Julie learned to cook from her mother, a former caterer who we featured as a Cook of the Week in August 2006. (Her brother, Dean, was featured a month later.)
Experimenting was indispensable for the catering business, which requires dishes that will hold up well on a buffet.
"I thought about taking over the business when my mother retired, but I knew the work involved," says Julie, "how much you're on your feet, and weekends are not your own."
For many years she seesawed back and forth between restaurant work and being a vet-tech, but the kitties won paws down; she has been working full time for 14 years at a cats-only clinic in Arlington Heights.
That frees her weekends for cooking, when she prepares large batches of old-fashioned, slow-cooked meals like chuck roast to shred for tacos and enchiladas, beef stroganoff or stuffed cabbage rolls.
In the summer she adds mounds of fresh vegetables from her container garden, box after box lined up on both sides of her driveway because that's the only place she has enough sun.
"It's so much better when you grow your own stuff," she says. "Broccoli is a totally different vegetable, Brussels sprouts are not so bitter."
This week's recipes highlight fresh produce, so no dawdling. Head for your own garden or the farmers market and enjoy the fruits of Julie's experimentation.
"I pulled a little from here and there, and if I really like it, I make it again right away and write down exactly what I did," she says.
As for the possibility of more Cooks of the Week from the Malambri clan, Julie says it isn't likely.
"My oldest brother Joe wants you to know his specialty is cooking Stouffer's frozen dinners, particularly mac and cheese," she says. "He knows to stir the pasta 2 to 3 minutes after microwaving."