Julie Swieca, of Rolling Meadows, makes tiramisu
If the name Julie Swieca sounds familiar, you're probably a Chicago sports fan.
Julie spent a decade as a full-time sports reporter, anchor and talk show host at The Score WSCR 670-AM covering the city's professional sports scene before reinventing herself as a pastry chef five years ago.
Julie cleaned out her locker at The Score in late 2004 and by 2005 had graduated from Kendall College's culinary program in Chicago.
The station was "going in a different direction than I wanted, so I decided to take a leap of faith," she says. "I've loved this career as much as the first one."
Unfortunately the recession has temporarily sidelined Julie; she lost her job at a suburban country club over a year ago and now works at a sports memorabilia store at Schaumburg's Woodfield Mall. She also caters part-time and hopes to parlay her media and culinary experience into a cooking show.
Recently, Julie developed the winning recipe for a contest sponsored by Geja's Cafe, a fondue restaurant in Lincoln Park. Her Cherry Merlot Dipping Sauce for meats, seafood and vegetables earned her $100, a place on the menu for a month and bragging rights.
Drawing on her pastry background, she combined sweetness from cherries and currant jelly with beef broth, red wine and a spritz of lime juice for acidity and tartness.
"I love cherries; I put dried cherries in rice and salads," she says. "I thought it would be fun to incorporate them into a savory dipping sauce."
Julie learned about the contest shortly after she and her now-fiance, Chris Gannon, celebrated the anniversary of their first date at the long-standing romantic restaurant.
"It was a cool opportunity to get my feet wet" on the savory side, she says. "I took it as a personal challenge."
Chris is part life partner, part taste-tester for Julie's culinary experiments.
"I can put anything in front of him, he's an amazingly appreciative audience," says Julie. "He gets a little spoiled, I always have desserts in the house."
Though baking is her true love, Julie enjoys tracking down a good main dish at allrecipes.com or epicurious.com.
She tinkers with soups, celebrates when she finds a good pork loin recipe for company and revels in fresh vegetables from her patio garden.
"When I nail a recipe, I'm patting myself on the back," says Julie, who recently tackled guacamole for the first time.
We also pass along her winning cherry merlot sauce and an online exclusive, her primavera-style pasta recipe with so many vegetables it looks like "an explosion of colored confetti," says Julie.
Pair it with some bread and a glass of wine and you've got a gold medal meal.