A Creative Mind in the Kitchen
Erin Puariea Clark Dishes It Up
Spicy, multifaceted, colorful, and the perfect amount of saltiness—those words not only describe EPIC Creative’s own Erin Puariea Clark, but also the food she conjures up in her kitchen every day.
For Erin, our VP of client services and account management, cooking has always been a part of her life. Erin’s earliest memories are of hanging out in the kitchen with her family.
Be sure to check out Erin’s amazing recipes!
“It started as a really cool way to spend time with my mom and grandmother. I loved being part of the hen party and all the conversations that went down there … let alone what was being created.”
The Ultimate Restaurant Resource
If you spend any time with Erin, you quickly realize that she’s a rich resource when it comes to all things food. She’s always eager to share a great restaurant recommendation or a good place to get a drink. Part of that comes from her time working with the Milwaukee Bucks. (Yes, those World Champion Milwaukee Bucks!) She’s quick to point out, “it was a while ago, back when George Karl was the head coach.” Among other things, Erin helped rookies and new players get acclimated to the city and settle in, so she knows all the places worth checking out.
A Sweet Social Presence
Then there’s her Instagram feed … it’s enough to make Ina Garten drool! Erin started it nearly a decade ago when she worked for Taste of Home and was testing recipes. Are you sensing a theme here? Erin has had some really cool jobs. (Including her current role at EPIC!)
“I was the Managing Director and General Manager for Taste of Home: Live. It was a two-hour interactive cooking demonstration that traveled the country, executing over 300 events each year. We did everything from recipe testing and development to editorial content, scripting the show, producing video, and more. It was a blast!”
In short, her Instagram feed is a foodie’s paradise. Each week her hundreds of followers feast their eyes on the food Erin has created, and sometimes we even find out who requested it and get the recipe. Go give her a follow, you’ll thank us.
The Methods Behind The Magic
So we had to know, what are Erin’s favorite ingredients? “OMG, I don’t have any one favorite, but I do probably have some tendencies. Salt and butter: those are things that can’t be replaced and should never be missed. Thyme makes things warm and homey. Any kind of acid (lemon or lime juice, or a vinegar) cuts richness and brightens everything up,” says Erin.
And like any good born-and-raised Wisconsinite, Erin loves her cheeses. “I think I probably have about 15 different types of cheese in my refrigerator right now. Is that wrong?”
No, Erin, it’s perfect. And we wouldn’t expect anything less.
Bringing The Kitchen To The Office
At EPIC, Erin oversees a team of account managers whose job it is to know just about “everything” about the clients we serve. Erin says there are a lot of lessons she’s learned in the kitchen that apply to agency life. “You have to be able to decipher a recipe (or a brand), determine what is important, and know how to make it shine in the midst of things outside your control. So you can’t be afraid to take risks or make mistakes—learn from them and move on. Own who you are, have a point of view, and express yourself.”
And Erin is all about expressing herself in the kitchen. She says her favorite types of cuisine are rich and complex, “I love anything that has multi-layered notes to it, so Mexican, Cajun, Asian, Italian.”
Like any good cook, Erin has some go-to, never-fail recipes that she makes without even thinking, including her mom’s herb bread that’s now become “her” herb bread—requested at nearly every potluck or gathering she attends. Then there’s her Chicken Cordon Bleu with a white wine mushroom sauce. (It’s way easier than it sounds.)
There’s nothing she won’t try to make. But don’t ask Erin to clean up. “The only thing I really don’t dig is the clean-up; it’s a drag. We don’t have a lot of counter space or a very large kitchen, so I have to clean as I go.”
Erin And Her Sugar
On most nights Erin cooks for herself and her husband but admits that, after growing up as the youngest of four, it’s hard to cook for two. And she says her husband “M” has a wicked sweet tooth. While Erin likes sweets, it’s “M” that often suggests she makes something sweet. “He has a friend at work, and sometimes I think the two of them dream up things for me to make. And he (the friend) gets half.” Erin and her husband get the other half.
That’s one of the best parts of Erin’s personality, at both work and home: she’s a giver. She’s always jumping in to help, and sharing her talents and skills. Whether it’s doing whatever it takes to help clients reach their goals or sharing a decadent dessert, you can count on Erin to deliver!
And, best of all, she knows how to keep her cool. Case in point: a particularly disastrous Thanksgiving dinner. “A pyrex dish exploded in the oven. Everything in the oven—including the turkey—had to be tossed. There was glass everywhere. The house was filled with smoke. It was tragic,” says Erin.
But true to form, Erin says all she remembers is the immediate chaos and laughter afterward. And when asked what they ate that year, Erin laughed and said they had appetizers and a lot more wine than usual.
Mixing It Up
Speaking of alcohol: like all good Wisconsinites, Erin has a few signature cocktails. She shared her Homemade Limoncello recipe, which is an exercise in patience, especially if you love that icy cold liqueur. And in certain circles, her Cherry Limeade Margaritas are the stuff of legends.
When it comes to legends, her chili is right up there. “I have a recipe called Knucks Chili because, when I first came up with it and asked ‘M’ to taste it, he took one bite and said ‘Give me knucks!’ (with a fist bump). And now I can’t make any other chili for him! I’ve won chili cook-offs with my white chicken chili and other variations on a classic red, but for ‘M’ I can only make Knucks Chili.”
So how does she know if a meal she’s made is a winner? Erin says, “That’s easy, in my family if no one approves they go silent. But if they like it, the first thing they ask is when can we have this again.”
And like everyone else, Erin also falls in ruts or gets tired of making the same things over and over again. “When we’re tired of everything, that’s usually when I start experimenting. That’s how I started making things like ramen, hot and sour soup, mayonnaise, and butter. Last weekend I made no-churn ice cream in a mason jar and played with different flavor combinations,” says Erin.
Cookbooks also serve as inspiration. But for Erin, trying to choose her favorite is a little like asking a mom who her favorite child is. “Ina Garten, Marion Grasby, and Ree Drummond have never let me down,” Erin confides.
At one point she had over 750 cookbooks in her collection. Erin admits, “I read them like novels and visit them like a coffee table book. It’s impossible to pick just one. It would be like Sophie’s Choice for me.”
But she has no problem picking the one famous chef she’d love to have dinner with, “No question, Julia Child. She was badass. A pioneer, genuine, and real.”
And after spending a good couple of hours talking about food with Erin, it’s easy to see how well the two would get along; they share plenty of the same attributes. Both make cooking fun and attainable, and both can laugh at themselves when things invariably go wrong.
“If you can’t fix it, feature it,” Erin says nonchalantly. It’s a motto that’s served her well in the kitchen and in her marketing career. “No one else but you knows what it was supposed to be, so just go with it. You’ll be surprised how often you end up creating really beautiful things.”
And that’s really the magic of cooking, taking ordinary ingredients and putting them together to create dishes that become extraordinary. This leads us to Erin’s final bit of advice for novice cooks: “Don’t be afraid. It’s all about trial and error. Taste as you go. As long as you know what you like and don’t like, you’ll get there. For some, cooking is a chore and food is just fuel but, in my family, it’s an expression of love, art, and creativity.”
Check out the Recipes!
Cherry Limeade Margarita
- 1 ½ cups homemade limeade
- ¼ cup cherry juice or grenadine
- 3–4 tablespoons triple sec
- ½ cup tequila
- Maraschino cherries
- 1 cup fresh squeezed lime juice
- ¾ cup extra fine granulated sugar
- 2 ½ cups water
For the Limeade: Pour fresh squeezed lime juice through a strainer. Mix with sugar and water until dissolved.
For the Margarita: In a small pitcher combine 1 ½ cups limeade, cherry juice, triple sec and tequila. Stir to combine. Serve over ice, garnish with cherries and additional lime slices if desired.
** For a non-alcoholic version: Remove the triple sec and tequila; replace it with your favorite lemon-lime soda
This recipe will make the equivalent of a 750 ml store bought bottle.
- 2 cups vodka or Everclear (use a quality brand)
- 5 lemons (you will only use the peels)
- 1 cup water
- 3 ¼ cup flour
- ¾ cup white sugar
This comes together in three phases. None of it’s complicated but just takes a little time. Phase 1 is the longest, as you need to allow time for the flavors to develop.
Phase 1: Using a vegetable peeler or paring knife, remove the peels of the lemons and set them aside. You need these. (Note: You want to have mostly just the yellow parts of the peels where the oils of the lemon are, that’s where all the flavor lives. Avoid as much of the white pith as possible as it can add bitterness).
Place the lemon peelings in a jar and cover them with the 2 cups of vodka. Put a lid on your jar and then let the vodka and lemon peels sit for at least a week for the flavor to infuse into the vodka. (I like to let it go for 2-3 weeks, and by the end of this steeping time your vodka should be a pretty yellow color.)
Phase 2: Make a simple syrup by combining the sugar and water in a small saucepan and heating it on the stove until the sugar is dissolved. This should only take a couple of minutes. Pour the syrup into a small bowl and then let it sit for a couple of hours overnight—however long it takes to cool completely. If there is any heat left in the simple syrup when it’s added, it can evaporate away the alcohol which you don’t want to happen.
Phase 3: Combine the infused vodka and the simple syrup. Using a strainer, pour the vodka into a large bottle. You can discard the lemon peels at this point. Add the completely cooled sugar syrup to the lemon vodka and stir/shake a bit to combine them.
Limoncello is usually served cold and is often kept in the freezer. If it’s freezing up then your ratios could be off or you need a higher-proof alcohol that won’t dilute as easily with the simple syrup. If you don’t want to increase the alcohol content, simply store it in the refrigerator instead of the freezer.
You can play with the sweetness level. This recipe uses ¾ cup of sugar for the simple syrup but you can add a little more or less for the sweetness level you prefer. The same applies to the lemon flavor. Want more or less? Adjust the amount of peel being used.
Everyone loves this dip. Even people who think they don’t like clams. Once you have it in your life, you won’t want to be without it.
- 2 cans minced clams
- 2 8-oz blocks of cream cheese
- Fresh parsley, finely chopped
- 2 tsp lemon juice, fresh squeezed
- 1–2 tsp Worcestershire sauce
- Several dashes of hot sauce
- ½ tsp garlic powder
- Dash of white pepper
In a bowl, let the cream cheese soften.
Drain the juice from the clams; reserve the juice in a separate bowl.
Mince the clams (I know, they came minced but you want them fine). Set aside.
Add approximately 2-3 Tbsp of the clam juice to the softened cream cheese and blend to desired consistency. Add the lemon juice, Worcestershire, and hot sauce, and mix well. Add the garlic powder and white pepper, and mix well.
Add the clams and parsley. Stir to combine. Chill for at least 2 hrs before serving. Continue to reserve the leftover clam juice to loosen the dip and/or add flavor, if needed. Feel free to also plus up the other seasonings to preference.
Serve cool to room temperature with ripple potato chips that will hold up to the dip. Lays Ripple Chips in the red bag work really well.
Stroganoff Sausage Dip
This hearty dip is a crowd pleaser and perfect for football games and cold weather gatherings.
- 1 lb. hot bulk pork sausage
- ½ cup onion, finely chopped
- ½ lb. mushrooms, thinly sliced or chopped
- 2 Tbsp flour
- 1 cup sour cream
- 1 cup milk
- 1 Tbsp Worcestershire sauce
- 1 tsp soy sauce
- 1 tsp paprika
- Tortilla chips
Cook sausage and crumble. Remove sausage from skillet and set aside; drain the grease but reserve a little to saute the onions and mushrooms.
Saute the onions and mushrooms in the reserved fat. Cook rapidly until onions are soft and mushrooms cooked out. Drain any remaining fat and add the sausage back to the pan.
In a small bowl, whisk flour and sour cream together. Add milk and remaining ingredients. Blend well. Add this to the meat mixture and cook over medium heat until thickened.
Serve hot with tortilla chips.
This recipe is traditionally made in a 2-quart round casserole pan.
- 3 ¼ cup flour
- 2 pkg dry instant yeast
- 2 Tbsp white sugar
- 1 tsp salt
- 1 tsp sage
- 1 tsp rosemary
- 1 tsp thyme
- ¼ cup butter
- 1 cup sweet onion, finely chopped
- 1 ¼ cup warm water
- 1 egg
In a medium to large bowl, combine 1 ½ cup of the flour with the yeast, sugar, salt, sage, rosemary, and thyme. Mix well and set aside.
In a small pan, saute the onion in butter until golden. Add to the flour mix. Add the warm water and egg. Blend with a hand mixer on low speed until moist; turn speed up to medium and blend for another 3 minutes.
By hand, gradually stir in the remaining flour until the batter is stiff. Spoon into a butter-greased, 2 qt casserole dish. Cover with a damp dish towel and let rise for about 1 hr.
Bake at 375 degrees for 35–40 minutes until golden brown. When you remove the bread from the oven, let it sit for 5 minutes. Remove from the pan while warm.
The bread will have a soft consistency that is too delicate for a traditional sandwich, but this is an amazing accompaniment to any soup or main course.
We love it sliced, buttered, and pan-grilled (add a little cheese to one side for an open face grilled cheese).
It’s a very friendly bread. Don’t be afraid to play with it. I’ve swapped out the sage, rosemary, and thyme for an Italian version with oregano, basil, marjoram, and garlic. I’ve even made a version with black olives, red onion, sage, and rosemary with coarse salt on top. Delicious.
Warm Pork and Raspberry Salad
This one comes from Taste of Home and is one of my all-time favorite salads. I love to share this one—it’s light, refreshing, and unexpected.
- 1 to 1 ¼ pounds pork tenderloin
- Salt and pepper to taste
- 2 Tbsp olive oil, divided
- ¼ cup sliced red onion
- 1 garlic clove, minced
- ½ cup chicken broth
- ½ cup seedless raspberry preserves
- ⅓ cup raspberry vinegar
- ½ tsp dried rosemary, crushed
- ½ tsp rubbed sage
- 4 cups spring mix salad greens
- ½ cup crumbled Gorgonzola cheese
- ½ cup chopped pecans, toasted
- ½ cup grape tomatoes
Slice pork into 16 pieces. Season with salt and pepper. In a large skillet over medium-high heat, cook pork in 1 tablespoon oil until no longer pink. Remove and keep warm.
In the same skillet, saute onion in remaining oil for 2 minutes. Add garlic; cook and stir for 30 seconds. Add the broth, preserves, vinegar, rosemary, and sage. Cook and stir 2-3 minutes or until sauce is thickened. Season with salt and pepper.
Place greens in a salad bowl; toss with a third of the sauce. Sprinkle with cheese, pecans, and tomatoes. Top with warm pork slices; serve with remaining sauce.
Ragù alla Spalla di Maiale (Pork Shoulder Ragu)
This recipe should feed 6-8 people, depending on their appetites. If you have leftover sauce, use it to make a lasagna. You won’t be sorry.
- 2 Tbsp olive oil
- 3 ½ lb. pork shoulder, quartered
- 1 cup all-purpose flour
- Salt and pepper
- ¾ cup pancetta, diced
- 2 cup onion, diced
- 2 small bulbs fennel, diced
- 2 carrots, diced
- 1 Tbsp garlic, minced
- 1 ½ lb. mushrooms, roughly chopped
- 1 28-oz can diced tomatoes, drained
- 6 oz tomato paste
- 1 cup of your favorite red wine
- 1 cup chicken stock
- 1 Tbsp Pernod
- 1 lb. pappardelle pasta
Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. On the stovetop, heat olive oil in a large Dutch oven on medium-high heat. Season pork with salt and pepper and dredge in the flour. Shake off excess flour. Brown pork on each side—about 8 minutes in total, per piece of pork. Transfer pork to a plate. Do not clean the pan.
Lower heat to medium and brown the pancetta for 3-5 minutes. Remove the pancetta, set aside and reserve the fat to cook the vegetables. Add the onions, fennel, and carrots to the pan. Cook until everything is soft—about 10 minutes. Add the garlic and blend with vegetables.
Raise the heat to medium-high; add another tablespoon of the oil, if needed. Add the mushrooms and cook for 8-10 minutes. Add in the tomatoes, paste, wine, stock, Pernod (if using), plus salt & pepper. Bring to a simmer and add the pancetta and pork into the mixture. Place the lid on the pan. Keep covered and place in the oven for at least 2 hours. It’s done when the pork is tender and falling off the bone.
When you think it’s ready, remove the pieces of pork, shred with a fork and place the meat back into the sauce and blend.
Serve with cooked pappardelle pasta.
Chicken Cordon Bleu
Chicken Cordon Bleu is an easy, French classic made of chicken stuffed with savory ham and melty cheese. It looks impressive and tastes like it took a really long time to prepare. You can prepare the chicken rolls ahead of time so they are ready to bake. Wrap them in plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight or freeze for up to 3 months.
- 2 chicken breast halves, skinless, boneless, and pounded thin
- 1 tsp kosher salt
- 1 tsp paprika
- ½ tsp ground black pepper
- 8 slices Gruyere cheese
- 4 slices cooked ham
- 1-2 Tbsp butter
- 1 small onion, diced
- ½ – 1 lb mushrooms, sliced thin or chopped
- 1 can cream of chicken soup
- ¼ cup favorite white wine
- Milk, as needed (for consistency preference)
- 2 Tbsp currant jelly
- 1-2 Tbsp parsley, fresh chopped
- Salt and pepper to taste
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Cut the chicken breasts into 4 thin cutlets. Pound thin.
Brush the inside of each cutlet with melted butter and season with salt, pepper, and paprika. Top with a slice of cheese, then a slice of ham and a second slice of cheese. Roll carefully then pin closed with toothpick and place seamside down in a prepared baking dish.
Bruch each chicken roll with melted butter and season with salt, pepper, and paprika again. Bake for 35-40 minutes until chicken is cooked to 165 degrees. Make sure to let sit for at least 5 minutes before serving.
While the chicken is baking, make the sauce. In a medium saucepan, saute the onions and mushrooms in the butter until the onions are golden and mushrooms are cooked through.
Continue heating on medium; add in the chicken soup, wine, and milk, if needed. Add the currant jelly and stir to make sure all is combined. You should be able to see flecks of the onion, mushrooms, and currant jelly. Add in the parsley, salt and pepper to taste.
Spoon over each piece of the Chicken Cordon Bleu.
Chicken – If the chicken breasts are large enough you may not need the toothpicks. The idea is to not let the cheese melt out of the chicken roll as it heats so if you can roll and secure w/o the toothpicks, go for it! Another option is to place a pocket in the chicken breast and place the ham/cheese in the pocket. In this instance, place it in the pan so the opening of the pocket is on top while it bakes.
Cheese – If you don’t like Gruyere cheese, any soft white cheese works well. Try Havarti, Mozzarella, or Provolone. They’re all delicious.
Ham – The ham you used should be savory. Blackforest works well. You want something with a very subtle smoke. But again, it’s all about personal preference. Use what you like!
Blueberry Brickle Coffee Cake
This one comes together so quickly and takes very little effort but it’s loaded with flavor and goodness.
- ¼ cup butter
- ¾ cup sugar
- 1 egg
- 2 cup all purpose flour
- 2 tsp baking powder
- ½ tsp salt
- ½ cup milk (use whole milk, if possible)
- 2 cup blueberries
- 2 Tbsp flour
- ¼ cup white sugar
- ¼ cup brown sugar
- ½ cup all purpose flour
- ½ – 1 tsp cinnamon
- ¼ cup butter
In a medium-large bowl, blend all cake ingredients (everything but the blueberries) until well combined and smooth. Toss the blueberries in 2 Tbsp flour and add into the wet batter. It helps the berries float in the cake instead of sinking to the bottom.
In a separate bowl, combine all of the topping ingredients (should be crumbly).
Pour the cake mixture into a grease 8×8 pan; sprinkle the topping and bake in a preheated oven at 375 for 35 minutes.
Kitchen Sink Cookies
So there is a particular soup and sandwich joint that has a cookie in their bakery lineup that’s almost impossible to say no to… This one is the result of reviewing several recipes on Pinterest with the base recipe adapted from Ashley Manila/Bake By Nature.
Serves: an average of 20, depending on the size you make them
- 2 sticks butter, melted and browned
- 2 tsp vanilla extract
- 1 ½ cup brown sugar
- ½ cup white sugar
- 2 eggs, room temperature
- 2 ½ cup all-purpose flour
- 2 ½ tsp baking powder
- ½ tsp. sea or flaske salt +
- ¾ cup broken pretzels +
- 1 ½ cup caramel bits +
- ¾ cup semisweet chocolate chips +
- ¾ cup milk chocolate toffee bits +
Note: + means you’ll want a little extra to top the cookies with before baking. With the exception of the salt, mix all of these together in a small bowl, so you can grab a pinch and sprinkle when needed.
Brown the butter and while it’s hot pour into a large bowl. Use a spatula to scrape all the little brown bits into it as well. (You want those…there is amazing flavor in those little babies.)
Add the vanilla and sugars into the butter and beat using a hand mixer for a couple minutes. Add the eggs and beat until combined.
Add the baking powder, 1/2 tsp. salt, and about half of the flour. Mix slowly, and add in the rest of the flour slowly, until just combined. Stir in the pretzels, caramel, chocolate chips, and milk chocolate toffee pieces until evenly distributed.
Size is up to you but I do recommend using a scoop so that the cookies are consistent and should be at least 2 Tbsp – ¼ cup in size. Place scoops of dough on a parchment lined sheet leaving plenty of space in between for the cookies to spread while baking.
You don’t want a perfectly round ball here. With your fingers or the backside of a spoon, press the cookies down just slightly. Add a little more of the broken pretzel pieces, caramel bits, chocolate chips, and toffee to the tops of the dough (amount to preference). Sprinkle with sea salt.
Bake in a preheated oven at 375 for 10-12 minutes (time will vary, based on the size of your cookies, but just until golden around the edges. When in doubt, I pull them slightly under vs slightly over, so that I don’t risk losing the chewiness. Once you pull them from the oven, allow them to sit on the sheet for 5 minutes. Then, transfer cookies to a wire rack to cool completely.
Serve right away or store in an airtight container … but they won’t last!
*These will keep in the freezer for up to 3 months. If you do freeze them, all you need to do is reheat them for a couple of minutes to bring them back to their original, glorious state.