Lucila Giagrande Lucila’s Homemade
Most of the time, the recipe on the back of a box delivers something far from legendary. But in Giagrande’s native Argentina, even grandmas swear by the cookie formula found on boxes of Maizena, a popular brand of cornstarch. In fact, alfajores de Maizena has become the catchall term for these crumbly caramel sandwich cookies, which Giagrande now sells under the moniker Lucila’s Homemade. The business was born when Giagrande, who came to the U.S. 15 years ago and worked in catering, had children. “I realized I wanted them to grow up with the same smells in the kitchen I had, ” she says. So she started baking the alfajores— sometimes rolled in coconut, occasionally dipped in chocolate, but always the classic combination of delicate butter cookies and thick dulce de leche—and friends pushed for her to get them into local shops. Now you’ll find the alfajores at shops like Chicago Farmstand (66 E Randolph St, 312-742-8419) , and this summer at the Sunday Logan Square farmers’ market. But we highly recommend grabbing one from Asado Coffee Co. (1432 W Irving Park Rd, 773-661-6530), where you can couple it with a steamy café con leche—just as the back of the box would suggest.
Aimee Goudas Jerky Queen
Goudas has been a fan of jerky ever since her days, years ago, on the Atkins diet. But it wasn’t until she spent a few years tending to her mother, who was sick with cancer, that the idea of dehydrated foods really stuck with her. Witnessing (and sharing) in her mother’s eating habits convinced Goudas to eliminate additives and preservatives from her diet, but she discovered that even the dried fruit in natural-food stores had stuff in it she didn’t want: oil to keep it moist, sugar to keep it sweet. So she went on what she calls “a dehydration kick.” That led to a buzz in Goudas’s office, and soon she was getting requests for dried fruits from coworkers. Eventually she realized she was about to go “broke feeding everybody,” and so an online shop was born. These days Goudas preps ingredients for her jerkeys (butternut squash chips; spicy ginger soy beef jerky) in the morning and lets them dehydrate while at her day job. It’s a system conducive to working 9–5, but it’s not the end goal: She hopes to bring Jerky Queen products to local stores, and maybe one day open a store of her own. But for now, despite the hectic schedule, Goudas looks on the bright side. “I’m 37, and I’m now not going to die alone—I’ll have lots of dried things around me.”
Nicole Stemler Barn House HC
Though Great Lake (1477 W Balmoral Ave, 773-334-9270) is best known for the perfectionism that goes into its pizzas, an equivalent seriousness is applied to the selection of products sold from the restaurant’s few shelves. Rather than being sourced from a far-flung artisanal producer, one item for sale, Barn House HC (which stands for handcrafted) salted toffee, is made on site—with Kilgus Farmstead cream, Three Sisters Gardens pecans and a generous dose of French gray sea salt—by Nicole Stemler, who was the pastry chef of Julius Meinl’s Chicago cafés for seven years. A friend of Great Lake’s owners, Stemler began helping out as a server at the shop last year and had the idea to make toffee as a holiday gift. “I wanted to figure out something that I could make, in the winter, that could still utilize the Green City Market,” she says. Though the toffee has been surprisingly popular, Stemler has also been working on bagels, English muffins and crackers for a limited, weekend-only breakfast. “If we can continue to offer something that’s super-high quality and local and organic, it might be a nice addition” to the neighborhood, she suggests. As if Great Lake would do it any other way.