Category Archives: Cooking

Dinner a la Ina Garten

While I get most of my dinner recipes from Pinterest, I still love making my way through a cookbook and having it propped up in the kitchen, with small stains of olive oil and melted chocolate. I’ve shared before that my mom and I are (slowly) going through Julia Child’s cookbook (have a few more recipes I need to post!), but another favorite chef of ours is Ina Garten. I first got her Foolproof book as a Christmas gift last year and I have to say, it has some of my favorite recipes (here, here, and here). Her new book Make It Ahead came out about a month ago, and I’ve already been able to try out a couple of dishes from this book. My mom is also an Ina Garten fan (she’s the one who got me these books in the first place) so while we were in Tucson for Thanksgiving, I convinced her to do an Ina themed dinner together, complete with a class white button down and red scarf to match the cover of Make It Ahead. We had a blast and Chip and my dad definitely enjoyed the food. For now, I think Foolproof is my favorite of these two cookbooks, but I know I’ll be using plenty from Make It Ahead.

We chose an appetizer and main dish from Foolproof and our dessert from Make It Ahead. Recipes are posted at the end, along with some pictures from Thanksgiving!

Inspired by Ina

Inspired by Ina

My favorite cooking rules: have wine and start with dessert

My favorite cooking rules: drink wine and start with dessert

Ready for the apple spice cake

Ready for the apple spice cake

Ina has Jeffrey. We have these two studs.

Ina has Jeffrey. We have these two studs.

Working on our entree of Lobster Mac and Cheese

Working on our entree of Lobster Mac and Cheese

With our completed appetizer (minus the basil)

With our completed appetizer (minus the wilty basil we bought)

My dad, camera shy? Nope.

My dad, camera shy? Nope.

Love these two.

Love these two.

Lobster Mac and Cheese

Lobster Mac and Cheese

We didn't like it at all...

We didn’t like it at all…

Warning: you cannot eat this dessert without a nice scoop of ice cream

Warning: you cannot eat this dessert without a nice scoop of vanilla ice cream

And now for some Thanksgiving pictures!

Driving to Tucson... Wrigs is such a good passenger

Driving to Tucson… Wrigs is such a good passenger

Penny, Molly, and Wrigley loved keeping me company at home

Penny, Molly, and Wrigley loved keeping me company at home

Thanksgiving table

Thanksgiving table

Thanksgiving table

Thanksgiving table

Best wine of the weekend: wine from Del Dotto

Best wine of the weekend: wine from Del Dotto

Alex found the old chess set I bought for him in Chile. Hooray for family chess games with llamas and conquistadors.

Alex found the old chess set I bought for him in Chile. Hooray for family chess games with llamas and conquistadors.

Penny begging for some turkey

Penny begging for some turkey

Family picture, round one

Family picture, round one

That's better

That’s better

The pups were left to my room during dinner. Penny likes hanging out under the bed.

The pups were left to my room during dinner. Penny likes hanging out under the bed.

Making another Ina Garten dessert

Making another Ina Garten dessert Thursday night

Yum.

Yum.

Walking with the dogs to Le Buzz. We were moderately successful.

Walking with the dogs to Le Buzz Friday morning. We were moderately successful.

Tomato Crostini with Whipped Feta – From Foolproof

Ingredients:

  • 6 ounces good feta, crumbled
  • 2 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
  • 2/3 cup good olive oil, divided
  • 2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black epper
  • 2 tablespoons minced shallots (2 shallots)
  • 2 teaspoons minced garlic (2 cloves)
  • 2 tablespoons good red wine venigar
  • 2 pounds ripe heirlooms or cherry tomatoes, 1/2 inch diced
  • 3 tablespoons julienned fresh basil leaves, plus extra for serving (we unfortunately bought some bad basil, so we had to skip this part)
  • 20 to 25 (1/2 inch thick) diagonal baguette slices, toasted
  • 2 tablespoons tasted pine nuts

Directions:

  • For the whipped feta, place the feta and cream cheese in the bowl of a food processor fitted with the steel blade. Pulse until the cheeses are mixed. Add 1/3 cup of the olive oil, the lemon juice, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper and process until smooth.
  • For the tomatoes, up to an hour before you’re serving, combine the shallots, garlic, and venigar in a medium bowl. Set aside for 5 minutes. Whisk in the remaining 1/3 cup olive oil, 1 teaspoon salt, and 1/2 teaspoon pepper. Add the tomatoes, stir gently, and set aside for 10 minutes. Stir inthe basil and taste for seasnonings.
  • To assemble the crostini, spread each slice of bread with a generous amount of whipped feta. With a slotted spoon, place the tomatoes on top. Put the crostini on plates and scatter with the pine nuts. Sprinkle with extra basil and serve.

Lobster Mac and Cheese – From Foolproof

Ingredients:

  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • Kosher salt
  • 1 pound elbow macaroni
  • 1 quart whole milk
  • 8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, dividied
  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 4 cups grated Gruyere cheese (12 ounces)
  • 2 cups grated extra-sharp Cheddar (8 ounces)
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1 1/2 pounds cooked lobster meat, 1/2 inch diced
  • 1 1 /2 cups fresh white bread crumbs (we used wheat bread) (5 slices, crusts removed)

Directions:

  • Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
  • Add the oil to a large pot of boiling salted water, add the pasta, and cook al dente according the directions on the package. Drain well.
  • Heat the milk in a saucepan, but don’t allow it to boil. In the large pot, melt 6 tablespoons of the butter and add the flour. Cook over low heat for 2 minutes, stirring constantly with a whisk. Still whisking, add the hot milk and cook for 1 to 2 minutes, until thickened and smooth. Off the heat, add the Gruyere, Cheddar, 1 tabelspoon salt, the pepper, and nutmeg and stir until the cheese melts. Stir in the cooked pasta and lobster. Pile the mixture into 6 to 8 (2-cup) gratin dsihes (we didn’t have these, so we just split it into two dishes).
  • Melt the remaining 2 tabelspoons of butter, combine with the bread crumbsm and sprinkle on top. Bake for 30 to 35 minutes, until the sauce is bubbly and the pasta is browned on top.

Fresh Apple Spice Cake – From Make It Ahead

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup chopped pecans
  • 1/2 cup dark rum
  • 1 cup golden raisins
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 cup dark brown sugar, lightly packed
  • 3 extra-large eggs, at room temperature
  • 3/4 cup vegetable oil
  • 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • 2 teaspoons grated orange zest  (2 oranges)
  • 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1 1/2 pounds Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored, and 1/2-inch-diced (3 to 4 apples)
  • Vanilla ice ceram
  • Caramel sauce

Directions:

  • Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour a 9×13 baking pan.
  • Place the pecans on a sheet pan and toast them for 5 to 10 minutes, until lightly toasted. Set aside. Combine the rum and rasinins in a mslal bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and microwave for 60 seconds. set aside.
  • In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the granulated sugar, brown sugar, eggs, vegetable oil, vanilla, and orange zest on medium speed for 3 minutes. Sift the flour, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, and cloves into a medium bolw. With the mixer on lowl, slowly add the flour mixture to the wet mixture, just until combined. Drain the raisins, discarding the liquid. With a rubber spatula, fold the rasins, pecans, and apples into the batter. Spread in thte prepared pan and msooth the top.
  • Bake for 35 to 40 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Set aside to cool, cut into squares, and serve warm or at room temperature with a scooop of vanilla ice cream and a drizzle of warm caramel sauce.

Cooking with Julia: Chocolate and Almond Cake

Sometime over the last few years, I really started to enjoy cooking. It was no longer an intimidating task where I measured success by whether or not Chip was able to consume the meal, but became a de-stressor at the end of the day. I actually looked forward to meal planning each week and would proudly watch Chip serve himself seconds (hint: it helps if you serve small portions to anyone who wants this ego boost).

My mom has pretty much always enjoyed cooking, but apart from holidays at home, we really haven’t spent much time together in the kitchen. For Mother’s Day, I decided to change that. We had always talked about someday tackling Julia Child‘s recipes, so I gave her Julia’s book Mastering the Art of French Cooking with the goal that we will do a couple of recipes whenever she’s in town. We’ve already done two main dishes and two desserts and they’ve been delicious. I thought it would be fun to share some of these recipes and see how long it takes us to get through this ginormous book. It definitely won’t be a year-long project like in the movie Julie and Julia; for one, we’re not in the same city enough to do that and secondly, having that much butter in such a short span of time goes straight to your hips.

Ready to take on Julia

Ready to take on Julia

The first time we cooked from this book, we made pork chops with mustard, cream, and tomato sauce as our main dish, did our own simple veggies, and had a chocolate and almond cake for dessert. We were inspired to choose this first dessert based on this scene from the movie Julie and Julia. Y’all. I want to make that cake again right now just thinking about it. So. Good. If you’re looking for a rich, yummy dessert and don’t care about calories, look no further!

 

Chocolate and Almond Cake with Chocolate-Butter Icing:

Cake Ingredients:

  • 4 ounces/squares semi-sweet chocolate
  • 2 tablespoons of rum or coffee (we went with rum)
  • 1/4lb. or 1 stick of softened butter
  • 2/3 cup sugar
  • 1 tablespoon sugar (in addition to sugar listed above)
  • 3 egg yolks
  • 3 egg whites
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1/3 cup pulverized almonds (use a food processor or blender for this)
  • 1/4 tsp almond extract
  • 1/2 cup cake flour

Icing Ingredients:

  • 2 ounces semi-sweet baking chocolate
  • 2 tablespoons rum or coffee (again, we went with rum)
  • 5 to 6 tablespoons unsalted butter (way to go, Julia)

Cake Directions:

  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  • Butter and flour an 8-inch round cake pan.
  • Set the 4 ounces of chocolate and 2 tablespoons rum/coffee in a small pan, cover, and place (off heat) in a larger pan of almost simmering water; let melt while you proceed with the recipe.
  • Cream 1/4lb butter and 2/3 cup sugar together for several minutes until they form a pale yellow, fluffy mixture. Beat in the three egg yolks until well blended.
  • In a separate bowl, beat the three egg whites and pinch of salt until soft peaks are formed; sprinkle on 1 tbsp of sugar and beat until stiff peaks are formed.
  • With a rubber spatula, blend the melted chocolate into the butter and sugar mixture, then stir in the almonds and almond extract. Immediately stir in one fourth of the beaten egg whites to lighten the batter. Delicately fold in a third of the remaining whites and when partially blended, sift on one third of the flour and continue folding. Alternate rapidly with more egg whites and more flour until all egg whites and flour are incorporated. Note: this was way easier to do with two people than it would have been on our own.
  • Turn the batter into the cake pan, pushing the batter up to its rim with a rubber spatula. Bake in middle level of preheated oven for about 25 minutes. Cake is done when it has puffed, and 2 1/2 to 3 inches around the circumference are set so that a cake tester plunged into that area comes out clean; the center should move slightly if the pan is shaken, and a cake tester comes out oily.
  • Allow cake to cool in the pan for 10 minutes. Run a knife around the edge of the pan, and reverse cake on a cooling rack. Allow it to cool for an hour or two; it must be thoroughly cold it if is to be iced.
To avoid getting a lovely grid on your cake like we did, consider laying a couple of paper towels down on your cooling rack

To avoid getting a lovely grid on your cake like we did, consider laying a couple of paper towels down on your cooling rack

Icing Directions:

  • Place the 2 ounces of chocolate and 2 tablespoons rum/coffee in a small pan, cover, and set in a larger pan of almost simmering water. Remove pans from heat and let chocolate melt for 5 minutes or so, until perfectly smooth. life chocolate pan out of the hot water, and beat in the butter a tablespoon at a time. Then beat over a bowl of ice and water until the chocolate mixture has cooled to spreading consistency (this took a while for us….). At once spread it over your cake with spatula or knife.
It isn't a Julia Child recipe without a ton of butter

It isn’t a Julia Child recipe without a ton of butter

Mom beating the chocolate icing in a bowl of ice. Fun fact: that beater was given to my parents for their wedding anniversary 28 years ago. It still works great, but whoa, does it overheat if you use it too long.

Mom beating the chocolate icing in a bowl of ice. Fun fact: that beater was given to my parents for their wedding anniversary 28 years ago. It still works great, but whoa, does it overheat if you use it too long.

My turn beating the icing while warning Wrigley to STAY AWAY from this cake

My turn beating the icing while warning Wrigley to STAY AWAY from this cake

Chocolate and Almond Cake

Chocolate and Almond Cake

Yum.

Yum.

Can't wait to make this again

Can’t wait to make this again

Summer Sangria

With the start of June, there’s no denying it. Summer is upon us. And with summer comes some intense humidity here in San Antonio that makes me and Wrigley consider buying a kiddie pool. Well, here’s a little something to make your summer more pleasant – a recipe for homemade sangria.

For those of you who know Chip and I well, you know that we love sangria. I should probably be ashamed that not only do we have a couple of small recipe books devoted to this Spanish beverage, we can also tell you which restaurants in town make the best version (La Fogata, if you’re curious). Over the last couple of years, we had tried out a bunch of different recipes, but none reminded us of the sangria we had on our honeymoon during our 24 hours in Barcelona. Some recipes were too fruity, or too carbonated, etc. While at La Fogata one evening, we finally figured out the missing ingredient for our ideal sangria: brandy (thanks to the kind waiter who gave us that tip!). So if you like a good, authentic, simple sangria – look no further. And if you make any here soon, feel free to invite us over for a glass.

Cheers to summer!

Ingredients: Note: it’s hard to specify just how many of each fruit to use, it all depends on how much juice they provide.

  • 1 bottle of red wine – We like using red blends, but any red wine should work fine. If you like a lighter sangria, go with a Pinot Noir. If you want it to be heavier, use a Cabernet.
  • 4 large oranges – Enough for 1 cup of fresh juice
  • 2-3 limes – enough for around 2 ounces of juice
  • 2-3 lemons – enough for around 2 ounces of juice
  • 1 tablespoon of sugar
  • 3-4 ounces of brandy – This is what solidified this recipe for us, we realized that a lot of our favorite restaurants used brandy in their sangria instead of triple sec.
  • 6 ounces club soda

Directions:

  • Pour bottle of red wine into a large pitcher
  • Pour the following into the same pitcher: 1 cup of fresh orange juice, juice from 2-3 limes, juice from 2-3 lemons. Feel free to adjust depending on how much citrus flavor you want in your sangria. We also typically strain the juice so it doesn’t get too pulp-y.
Sangria is a good source of Vitamin C, right?

Sangria is a good source of Vitamin C, right?

  • Stir in brandy and sugar.
  • Refrigerate for at least two hours (we try to refrigerate for around four hours)
  • Right before serving, pour in club soda.
  • Garnish with sliced fruit.
  • Sit back and enjoy!

A glass of sangria outside? Don't mind if I do.

A glass of sangria outside? Don’t mind if I do.

Pasta Bolognese

Like I mentioned in my last post, Chip and I had an awesome pasta bolognese for dinner this past Friday. We got our recipe from Giada’s Everyday Italian and will definitely be making it again! I’ve only done a few recipes from this cookbook, but all of them have turned out great. It probably helps that I have a serious love for Italian food. If only carbs were as good for us as veggies… #ieatcarbslikeachamp

Here’s the recipe! Enjoy!

Ingredients:

  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, minced
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 celery stalk, minced
  • 1 carrot, peeled and minced
  • 1 pound ground beef chuck
  • 1 28-ounce can crushed tomatoes
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley (we could only find regular parsley and it worked just fine)
  • 8 fresh basil leaves, chopped
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt, plus more to taste
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, plus more to taste
  • 1/4 cup freshly grated Pecorino Romano cheese
Got our pasta, cheese, and tomatoes at Fratellos.. check them out!

Got our pasta, cheese, and tomatoes at Fratellos.. check them out!

Directions:

  • In a large skillet, heat the olive oil over a medium flame. When almost smoking, add the onion and garlic and saute until the onion is very tender, about 8 minutes (ps – sauteeing garlic and onion is one of my favorite smells in the world).
  • Add the celery and carrot and saute for 5 minutes.
We really need to use our food processor more often

We really need to use our food processor more often

  • Increase the heat to high, add the ground beef, and saute until the meat is no longer pink, breaking up any large lumps, about 10 minutes.
  • Add the tomatoes, parsley, basil, and 1/2 teaspoon each of salt and pepper, and cook over medium-low heat until the sauce thickens, about 30 minutes (ours cooked a lot faster, the sauce was thick by about 20 minutes so keep an eye on it!).
Almost ready!

Almost ready!

  • Stir in the cheese, then season with more salt and pepper to taste.
I'm all for freshly grated cheese. And any cheese in general.

I’m all for freshly grated cheese. And any cheese in general.

  • Serve with pasta and enjoy!
So excited for dinner that I didn't realize the pasta almost slid off the plate

So excited for dinner that I didn’t realize the pasta almost slid off the plate

Bon appetit

Bon appetit

Note: Makes about 1 quart of sauce (serves 4 over a pound of pasta as a main course); the sauce can be made one day head. Cool, then cover and refrigerate. Rewarm over medium heat before using.

Three Year Housiversary

Yes, I just made that word up. But it totally works, right?

Three years ago, Chip and I bought our very first house right before getting married. I joke that we didn’t have enough on our plates between both of us working full time, planning a wedding, and Chip studying for the CFA, so why not add buying a house to the mix. The real story is that as we were looking for rentals, a realtor asked us to consider buying. We really didn’t have very much savings between the two of us so we had never even thought that was an option for us, but after this realtor walked us through the requirements for an FHA loan, we started looking at homes within the range we could have a mortgage loan approved at. I don’t remember the whole process very well, but it felt like we had soon found our house and after a looong bout of paperwork, we were homeowners.

I can’t believe we’ve already been in this house for three years. Apart from the house I grew up in, it’s the longest I’ve ever lived somewhere after moving into new dorms every year for college and then an apartment and town home following graduation. Sometimes it feels like we just moved in, other times it’s like we’ve been here for forever. We’ve enjoyed having friends over and making this house our home and still have lots of projects we would love to do that will keep us busy in the coming years (I’m looking at you, laundry room).

To celebrate our three year housiversary, we decided to have a nice home cooked meal this past Friday. Chip had the day off for Battle of the Flowers, so we were able to go on a nice long walk with the pup in the morning, pick up a few more plants at Millberger’s, and grab lunch at Habanero’s before coming home and doing a little bit of yardwork. Once we had finished raking, planting, and watering everything, we went grocery shopping and then came home to cook dinner together. Let me tell you, I love having date nights at home. Sure, it’s fun to go out to a favorite restaurant and not have to worry about washing the dishes, but it is so fun for us to be in the kitchen together and take our time eating outside with some wine. This time, we decided to make pasta bolognese from Giada’s Everyday Italian cookbook (will try to post that recipe soon!). Our dinner was so good and we’ve been enjoying the leftovers for lunch these past couple of days.

Love my sous-chef

Love my sous-chef

One of my favorite wineries from our trip to Napa

One of my favorite wineries from our trip to Napa

While having dinner, we had fun remembering some of our favorite house projects (planting our garden for the first time is up at the top, followed by re-doing our bathroom) as well as some not so favorite moments (like the time our living room flooded…). Overall, we love this home and are so thankful to be living here. Here’s to many more years ahead!

Eating outside is my favorite

Eating outside is my favorite

Christmas Desserts

I have a bit of a sweet tooth…

And by that, I mean every single tooth in my mouth, including the two upper wisdom teeth I never had removed. So needless to say, one of my favorite parts about the holiday season is getting to bake and then enthusiastically consume different desserts. Over the last few years, my mom has given me free reign on the desserts for Christmas Eve, so I look forward to working on this part of our menu. This year, I turned to Southern Living’s Christmas Cookbook (2011 edition) once more, and we decided on the following two desserts for Christmas Eve: a chocolate chunk candy cane cheesecake and a chocolate-bourbon-pecan cake. Apologies if just reading those names gave you a cavity, but if you like desserts as much as I do, you’ll want to bake these yourselves!

Chocolate Chunk Candy Cane Cheesecake

How could I not pick this for Christmas Eve? You just don’t get any more holiday festive than candy canes. Now, we (I) should have ready the recipe the day before and realized that with the needed 8 hours of chilling, we should  have made this cheesecake on the 23rd. But I think in the end it’s a good thing we didn’t because I’m sure my mom and I would have been tempted to devour the entire thing while the boys were out golfing. As it was, we had to control ourselves on not licking the mixing bowl clean of batter. This is a judgment free zone, folks.

Ingredients:

  • 1 1/2 cups chocolate wafer cookie crumbs (about 32 cookies)
  • 1/4 cup butter, melted
  • 2 tbsp. sugar
  • 4 (8-oz.) packages cream cheese, softened
  • 1 (14-oz.) can sweetened condensed milk
  • 1/3 cup whipping cream
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 2 tbsp. all-purpose flour
  • 2 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1 1/2 cups semisweet chocolate chunks
  • 1/2 cup coarsely crushed hard peppermint candies (about 18 candies)
  • 3/4 cup whipping cream
  • 1 1/2 cups semisweet chocolate morsels
  • Garnishes: 65 soft peppermint sticks (5 small bags), broken, peppermint bark (we didn’t have any peppermint bark)

Directions:

  • Preheat oven to 325. Combine first 3 ingredients; stir well. Press mixture firmly on bottom of a lightly greased 9″ spring-form pan. Bake at 325 for 14 minutes; let cool.
  • Beat cream cheese at medium-high speed with an electric mixer until creamy. Gradually add sweetened condensed milk, beating just until blended. Add 1/3 cup whipping cream and next 3 ingredients, beating just until blended. Add eggs, 1 at a time, beating just until yellow disappears. Stir in chocolate chunks and crushed candies.
Cheesecake ready for the oven, but beware, the batter is delicious

Cheesecake ready for the oven, but beware, the batter is delicious

  • Pour batter into baked crust. Bake at 325 for 52 to 55 minutes or until edges are set and center is almost set. Turn off oven. Immediately run a knife around edge of pan, releasing sides. With oven door slightly open, let cheesecake stand in oven 1 hour. Remove from oven; cool completely on a wire rack. Cover and chill 8 hours. Remove sides and bottom of pan; place cheesecake on a serving plate (confession: I totally didn’t see the part about cooling first in the oven for an hour, so we skipped straight to cooling on a wire rack and it turned out just fine).
  • Pour 3/4 cup whipping cream into a microwave-safe bowl. Microwave at high 1 minute or until hot. Add 1 1/2 cups semisweet morsels; stir until chocolate melts and mixture is smooth. Pour ganache over chilled cheesecake, allowing ganache to spill over edges of cheesecake; smooth ganache with an offset spatula. Let stand 10 minutes before garnishing, if desired.
A Christmas Cheesecake

A Christmas Cheesecake

Chocolate-Bourbon-Pecan Cake:

Since we wouldn’t be getting enough chocolate with just the cheesecake, I thought we should give this dessert a shot (nice pun with the Bourbon, right?). I also wanted to see if I would be better at a multi-layer cake this year compared to last Christmas, and I’m happy to say, it was a much more successful process this time around. This cake is moist and not as rich as you would expect, so go ahead and serve yourself a bigger slice (we all made New Year’s resolutions to exercise more). It’s so good, even Wrigley couldn’t resist it…

Ingredients:

  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 1/4 tsp. baking soda
  • 3/4 tsp. salt
  • 1 1/2 cups boiling water
  • 1 1/4 cups unsweetened cocoa
  • 3/4 cup milk
  • 1 tbsp. vanilla extract
  • 1 1/2 cups unsalted butter, softened
  • 3 cups firmly packed light brown sugar
  • 6 large eggs
  • 1/2 cup bourbon
  • Two-part frosting (ingredients and directions provided below)
  • Garnish: pecans

Directions: 

  • Preheat oven to 350. Grease and flour 2 (9″) round cake pans. Whisk together flour, baking soda, and salt.
  • Whisk together 1 1/2 cups boiling water and cocoa, whisking until smooth. Whisk in milk and vanilla.
  • Beat butter at medium speed with an electric mixer until creamy. Gradually add brown sugar, beating at medium speed 3 minutes or until light and fluffy. Add eggs, 1 at a time, beating well after each addition.
  • With mixer at low speed, add dry ingredients alternately with cocoa mixture, beginning and ending with dry ingredients. Pour batter into prepared pans.
  • Bake at 350 for 35 to 40 minutes or until a wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean. Let cool in pans on wire racks 10 minutes; remove from pans, and cool completely on wire racks (about 1 hour). Wrap and freeze cake layers 1 hour (this step enables you to split cake layers with ease).
  • Using a serrated knife, slice cake layers in half horizontally to make 4 layers. Brush cut side of each layer with bourbon. Spread pecan frosting between layers. Spread top and sides of cake with chocolate frosting. For best flavor, cover and let stand at room temperature 8 to 24 hours before serving. Garnish if desired.

The two cakes sliced into four layers

The two cakes sliced into four layers

Adding the pecan frosting between layers

Adding the pecan frosting between layers

I also added a little bit of powdered sugar to the top of the cake along with the pecans for garnishing

I also added a little bit of powdered sugar to the top of the cake along with the pecans for garnishing

Two-part frosting ingredients:

  • 1 cup butter, softened
  • 2 (16-oz.) packages powdered sugar, divided
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 2 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1 1/4 cups chopped pecans, toasted
  • 2 tbsp. milk, divided
  • 1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa

Frosting directions:

  • Beat butter at medium speed with an electric mixer until creamy. With mixer at low speed, gradually add 2 cups powdered sugar, beating until blended. Add 1/2 cup milk and vanilla, beating until blended.
  • Gradually add remaining powdered sugar beating until smooth. Remove 3 cups frosting, and place in separate bowl; stir in pecans and 1 tbsp. milk (this pecan frosting will be used as the filling). Add cocoa and remaining 1 tbsp. milk to frosting in mixing bowl, beating until blended.
Christmas Eve Desserts

Christmas Eve Desserts

Minestrone Soup

Chip and I first had minestrone soup while we were in Boston this past fall. We were actually grabbing one last lunch in the North End before dropping my brother off at the airport while the rest of us would be driving up to Maine. Chip had been pretty sick during this part of the trip (if you ask him, he will dramatically say he was struggling to breathe), but after some antibiotics and one amazing minestrone soup, he was a new man. Since then, he was pretty set on finding a recipe as close to that minestrone (a task that was conveniently passed on to me). This recipe from Ina Garten’s Barefoot Contessa Foolproof is the only other minestrone we have liked as much. We’ve made it a few times now and we love more each time. We made this soup last night and with this cold front we’re getting, it’ll be our dinner again tonight!

Ingredients:

  • Good olive oil
  • 4 ounces pancetta, 1/2-inch diced (HEB has small packages of pre-diced pancetta that works great)
  • 1 1/2 cups chopped yellow onions
  • 2 cups (1/2-inch) diced carrots (3 carrots)
  • 2 cups (1/2-inch) diced celery (3 stalks)
  • 2 1/2 cups (1/2-inch) diced peeled butternut squash (Whole Foods sells this pre-diced, but if you need to do this yourself, soften the squash up by microwaving for a couple of minutes)
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons minced garlic (4 cloves)
  • 2 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme leaves
  • 26 ounces canned or boxed chopped tomatoes, such as Pomi
  • 6 to 8 cups chicken stock, preferably homemade (I always go with store bought, the homemade stock can get pretty expensive! And 6 cups always works great for us)
  • 1 bay leaf
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 1 (15-ounce) can cannellini beans, drained and rinsed (I haven’t been able to find these at HEB, so I just use Navy beans)
  • 2 cups cooked small pasta (I like using Pipe Rigate pasta)
  • 8 to 10 ounces fresh baby spinach leaves
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine
  • 2 tablespoons store-bought pesto
  • Freshly grated Parmesan cheese, for serving

Directions:

  • Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil over medium heat in a large, heavy pot or Dutch oven. Add the pancetta and cook over medium-low heat for 6 to 8 minutes, stirring occasionally, until lightly browned. Add the onions, carrots, celery, sqauash, garlic, and thyme and cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, for 8 to 10 minutes, until the vegetables begin to soften.
Pre-diced pancetta

Pre-diced pancetta

Adding all of the vegetables

Adding all of the vegetables

  • Add the tomatoes, 6 cups of the chicken stock, the bay leaf, 1 tablespoon salt, and 1 1/2 teaspoons pepper to the pot. Bring to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer uncovered for 30 minutes, until the vegetables are tender.
  • Discard the bay leaf. Add the beans and cooked pasta and heat through. The soup should be quite thick but if it’s too thick, add more chicken stock. Just before serving, reheat the soup, add the psinach and toss with 2 big spoons (like tossing a salad). Cook just until the leaves are wilted. Stir in the white wine and pesto. Depending on the saltiness of the chicken stock, add another teaspoon or two of salt to taste (we’ve always been fine as-is). Serve large shallow bowls of soup and sprinkle with Parmesan cheese.
Minestrone Soup

Minestrone Soup

Minestrone Soup

Minestrone Soup

Food tastes better in pretty bowls, right?

Food tastes better in pretty bowls, right?

Always waiting for any scraps to fall

Always waiting for any scraps to fall