Monthly Archives: December 2013

Christmas Morning

This was our first year celebrating Christmas in our new house, so we took extra care to make sure it would be a memorable one.  We got our tree super early, and had the house decorated all season.  Michael took care of the lights outside, and I handled decorating the tree and setting out his nutcrackers to guard the stairs.  I also picked up one of these candles, which made the house smell like a Chrstmas tree lot. 


The day before Christmas, I went over to Kuhl Linscomb for their annual Christmas Eve sale and picked up these beautiful Juliska Christmas napkins to spruce up the table for Christmas morning.  I put real sugar in the sugar pot, bought real fresh-sqeezed orange juice, and got all ready for the morning’s feast.


We decided on this baked french toast recipe from Bon Appetit’s holiday edition for breakfast.  It was delicious, and something that you can put together ahead of time and just throw in the oven while you open presents.  Some fresh fruit and crispy bacon are all you need to round out the meal.  The market was out of challah, so we used brioche and it turned out perfect.  Really pretty too!


Everyone loved it, and it was the perfect way to start off Christmas Day.  After breakfast, we had a long cat nap on the couch, admired all of our new gifts, and watched A Christmas Story for the 100th time.  Pretty nice Christmas morning!

Christmas Eve

Christmas Eve at my Mom’s house is traditionally filled with lots of champagne, too many presents and a fancy dinner that features lamb as the main course.  Everything is always delicious and everyone goes home happy, full, and a little tipsy.  This year, my sister and I were in charge of cocktail hour, and Michael was in charge of desert.  First on the list was a specialty Champagne cocktail that Callie sourced from The Love List.  The only edit we made was to add more champagne to the mix to fill up the flutes.  They were really good and all the special bottles made the bar look beautiful. 



She also made this really yummy baked brie topped with fig preserves and fresh figs that she served with some little toasted crostini.    


My addition to the mix was a salmon caviar dip that we’ve been making for Christmas Eve for the past several years.  It was originally sourced from an old Barefoot Contessa book, but has changed a bit over the years.  I add in a lot more lemon juice than the original recipie calls for, which cuts the “fishiness,” and a little more salt as well.  Michael still won’t touch it, but the rest of us love it.  Pictured behind it is my Mom’s traditional sardine dip that our grandmother used to make every Christmas.  It’s a fixture at Christmas at our house, regardless of the fact that most of us are afraid of it.   IMG_6638

Christmas Eve Salmon Caviar Dip

8 oz. cream cheese, at room temperature
1/2 cup sour cream
3 to 4 Tbsp. freshly squeezed lemon juice
2 Tbl freshly minced dill, plus sprigs for garnish
1 green onion, minced (white and green parts)
1 Tbsp. milk, half-and-half, or cream
1/2 tsp. kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
100 grams salmon or trout roe (The original recipe calls for salmon, but trout roe is actually a little more mild in flavor and cheaper too.)

Cream together all ingredients, and then gently fold in the caviar right before you’re about to serve it.  Set aside a little spoonful of caviar and a few sprigs of dill to garnish the top, and serve with your favorite salted potato chips. 

Michael was in charge of desert, and he decided on an Oreo Cheesecake.  I asked him where he got the recipie, and no joke, it’s from  The only addition we made was to add a sour cream topping at the end to cover any cracks and provide us with a good surface to decorate the top with a few more Oreo crumbles.  For the topping, just mix a cup of sour cream with a tablespoon of sugar and spread over the top of the cheesecake.  Bake at 350 degrees for about 5 minutes and then garnish with the crumbled Oreos.


Aside from all the yummy drinks and good food, the hit of the night was the mini fridge my sister gave Michael for his man cave.  I’m not sure if I’ve ever seen him so excited over a present before.  It was pretty cute.  Here he is hugging the box once he figured out what was inside…


The boys got some other fun toys including Mr. moustache cocktail glasses and a tie that doubles as a flask.  Genius.


IMG_6650It was a really fun night and a wonderful Christmas Eve!



Christmas Cocktails

The Friday before Christmas we set out to host a few friends for cocktails and before I knew it, we were hosting a full-blown Christmas Party.  Michael decided he wanted to make a big batch of seafood gumbo, so he spent the week going to every grocery store in a five-mile radius to gather all the necessary ingredients.  I focused on the bar and putting together a few fun appetizers to accompany the main event.  It was a really fun night and one that we’re likely to make a tradition in the years to come.  Michael’s already telling me he wants to have a “real” Christmas Party next year, so as with most things around here, it sounds like it’s only going to get bigger.  IMG_6608
Here’s our bar all set up for the occassion.  Fancy “B” napkins, metalic striped straws, and some “Yule Shoot Your Eye Out” Christmas lager and we were all set.  First up on the appetizer list were these cheese puffs adapted from a recipie I found on Goop.  I kept the recipe largely the same, save the addition of truffle salt for something special, but I did make a few notes on the instructions.


Christmas Cheese Puffs

3/4 cup flour
1 cup water
6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) butter, cut into small pieces
2 cloves of garlic, finely grated
1 teaspoon salt–(truffle if you have it)
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 1/2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
4 large eggs
1/2 cup (packed) coarsely grated Gruyère cheese
1/2 cup (packed) Cheddar cheese

Preheat oven to 425°F.  Butter 2 large baking sheets and sprinkle with a dusting of flour.

In a medium saucepan, combine the water, butter, garlic, salt and pepper. Over medium-high heat, bring the mixture to a boil and then add the flour, stirring vigorously with a wire whisk until the mixture forms a smooth ball.   The whisk helps avoid clumps in the flour and ensures it all comes together smothly.  Continue stirring for about 2 minutes more, then remove from heat.

Put the mixture into a mixing bowl and then add mustard and eggs, 1 at a time. Mix well to combine, then add cheese and mix again.  Puting the mixture into a mixing bowl first helps avoid scrambled eggs, which is how my first batch ended up going down the drain.

Using a mellon baller, scoop up the batter and drop spoonfuls one by one onto the baking sheets, giving them enough space to cook and expand, about an inch or two apart. Bake for about 20 to 25 minutes.  Tops should be golden brown and centers just set.

Note: You can also make these ahead and freeze the little drops of dough on the cookie sheet.  Once they’re frozen, you can put them in a zip-lock until you need them.  Bake right from the freezer and just add a few extra minutes to the cooking time.

We also made these really yummy fresh figs wrapped in proscuitto.  I tested a few different versions out during the week, and they were pretty tasty with fresh and dried figs and with different kinds of cheese in the middle.  Our favorites though were the fresh ones with a little gorgonzola tucked inside.  I intended to drizzle a little balsamic syrup over the top of these, but ran out of time at the last minute as all our friends were beginning to arrive.  Maybe next year…


Proscuitto-Wrapped Figs

Halve the fresh figs and remove the stems.  Top each fig half with a small crumble of gorgonzola (or manchego or white cheddar, or whatever strikes your fancy).  Wrap each with a half a piece of proscuitto and secure with a toothpick.  Once they’re all tied up, place in a 400 degree oven for about 10 to 12 minutes, turning once in the middle so that the proscuitto crisps up evenly.

Last on my list was pickled shrimp.  I had been wanting to make these ever since we went to Oxford, Mississipi for the Texas/Ole Miss game and had some at a friend’s house.  The recipie was her mother’s, and she was gracious enough to share it with me after I devoured half the bowl.  I also looked up a few versions in our southern cookbook collection and added in a few tweaks just for fun.


Pickled Shrimp

1 cup thinly sliced, yellow onion
6 bay leaves
2 oz. bottle of capers, drained
4 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice
1 cup cider vinegar
1/2 cup olive oil
1 tsp. minced garlic
1 tsp. kosher salt
1 tsp. celery seeds
1 tsp. red pepper flakes
1 tsp. mustard seed
1 tsp. whole coriander seeds
1 whole lemon cut into thin rounds
2 lbs. boiled shrimp

Mix all ingredients together in a large zip lock bag and place in the refrigerator to marinate overnight and up to four days.  Turn the bag every once in a while to make sure the shrimp are pickling evenly.  Taste and adjust seasonings as necessary, and serve chilled.  These were great as a make-ahead appetizer.  All you have to do is dump the zip lock into a pretty bowl right before people arrive, and you’re all set.

Here is Michael’s set up for his seafood gumbo.  The recipe was, of course, sourced from John Besh and tasted delicious.IMG_6611
And, it wouldn’t be a party at our house without fried oysters.  Michael serves his with buffalo sauce, and they’re all usually gone before I can even snap a picture.


It was a great party.  Only note for next year is to remember to hire help and someone to clean up the next day!  Merry Christmas, everyone!




Home Alone

I was feeling under the weather and was in need of a night in on Friday night.  Michael went out to the Rockets game, and I settled in on the couch with a good bowl of homemade soup and a little grilled cheese.  The butternut squash arrived in our bushel this week, and I had all the rest of the ingredients already on hand, so I didn’t even have to leave the house to pull it together.  Warm, comforting, and the perfect companion for a good night in with a movie. 



Roasted Butternut Squash and Tomato Soup (Adapted from Bon Appetit)

2 tablespoonsolive oil, divided
2 small butternut squash, halved, and seeded
2 garlic cloves, peeled
1 small yellow onion, chopped
1/2 teaspoon dried ground ginger
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1/2 teaspoonground turmeric
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1 28-oz. can whole peeled tomatoes
1 1/2cupscups low-sodium chicken broth
Freshly ground black pepper
tablespoon of toasted pinenuts and olive oil for serivng

Preheat oven to 400°. Drizzle squash halves with olive oil and place on a baking sheet, cut side down, with a garlic clove tucked under each half. Roast until squash is tender, about 45 minutes. When cool, scoop out squash flesh and reserve, along with roasted garlic. Discard squash skins. (Squash and garlic can be roasted 1 day ahead. Cover and chill.)

Heat remaining 1 Tbsp. oil in a large heavy pot over medium heat. Add onion; cook until softened, about 5 minutes. Stir in ginger, 2 tsp. salt, turmeric and ground clove. Cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add roasted squash and garlic cloves and stir to coat. Add tomatoes with thier juices and chicken broth; bring to a boil. Use a potato masher to break up the tomatoes. Reduce heat and simmer to allow flavors to meld, about 20 minutes. Taste and adjust seasonings as necessary, adding a little extra chicken stock if it looks too dry.

Using an immersion blender, purée soup until smooth. I’m sure the consistency would be amazing blended with a Vitamix, but that is still on our list. Season with salt and pepper and top with a drizzle of olive oil and a sprinkling of toasted pinenuts. I served mine with a grilled white english cheddar and fig jam sandwich. Pretty tasty!

Happy Thanksgiving!

We had a happy thanksgiving weekend!  Cooked up a storm on Wednesday and Thursday and had a great time celebrating with our families.  We were lucky enough to have the day off on Wednesday, so we cooked just about everything ahead of time.  Thanksgiving morning, Michael got up at the crack of dawn to start the fire on the Green Egg for his smoked turkey, but otherwise, it was a pretty relaxed day, and a big success if you ask us.  I even had time to set the table, arrange flowers, and spray paint some pears for our place cards.  Loved getting to use our wedding china and our shiny new rose gold flatware.   photo

We kept the appetizers pretty simple.  A few treats from Oakville Grocery that we picked up in Napa at my sister’s wedding, some caper berries because Ina said we needed them, and some parmesan-truffle popcorn for a little something special.  The celery sticks stuffed with cream cheese and cranberry sauce were a childhood favorite that my grandmother always used to make.


For the main event, we decided on the following:

Green Egg Smoked Turkey
Oyster Dressing
Sweet Potato Casserole
Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Pancetta and Balsamic Syrup
 Pop-overs with Fig Jam Compound Butter
Bourbon Pumpkin Cheesecake
Bourbon Pecan Pie
Michael was in charge of the turkey, so you’d have to ask him how that was done.  All I can say is that it was a VERY involved process and required hours of research, an overnight bath in a brine on our porch, and a very early morning wake-up call Thanksgiving morning.  The Oyster Dressing was something I’d always wanted to try, and since we were only having our parents over, they seemed like the right set of guinea pigs for the occassion.  And wouldn’t you know it, they loved it.  My mom said it was better than my dad’s, which was quite the compliment.  The recipe we used was adapted from John Besh’s My New Orleans cookbook.  It’s a favorite on our shelf and one we always turn to for southern favorites.  Following his advice we prepared the whole dish the day before, so all we had to do on turkey day was throw it in the oven.  Here it is on our pre-game day, all ready to go in the fridge to await its big moment.
For the dressing:
8 tablespoons butter, plus one to grease the baking dish
4 oz bacon or pancetta (we used a combination of the two)
2 celery stalks, diced
small green bell pepper, diced
small yellow onion, diced
2 to 3 garlic cloves, minced
1 1/2 tablespoons smoked sweet paprika
3/4 teaspoon garlic powder
3/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 large day-old french baguette, cubed
1 large day-old cornbread loaf, cubed
3 dozen shucked oysters
1 cup chicken stock
2 green onions, minced
3 tablespoons parsely chopped
4 eggs
1 teaspoon Tabasco
1 teaspoon Salt
  1. Grease a 10 x 14 shallow baking dish with 1 tablespoon of butter.
  2. Cook the bacon and/or pancetta in a large non-stick skillet until crisp.  Add one full stick of butter, allow to melt, and then add in the celery, bell pepper, and onion.  Cook for about 10 minutes until the vegetables are soft.  Add in the garlic, cook for one minute more, and then add in the rest of the spices.  Stir to combine and cook for another couple of minutes.
  3. Pour the vegetable mixture over the cubed bread and mix to combine.  Add in the oysters and any remaining oyster liquor,  along with the parsely and green onions.
  4. Beat the eggs, Tabasco, and salt together in a small bowl.  Pour over the dressing and stir to combine.  At this point, if the mixture seems too dry, add in enough chicken stock to reach desired  consistency.  We added in about a cup.
  5. Add the dressing to the prepared baking dish.  Cover and refrigerate overnight.
  6. About an hour before dinner time, pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees.  Bake dressing until heated through and crispy on top.  We turned the broiler on for the last few minutes just to crisp up the bread (and the marshmellows sitting next to them on the sweet potatoes!)  Serve hot with a little extra Tabasco on the side.

The roasted brussels sprouts were sourced from the Barefoot Contessa.  You can find the recipe here.  Make sure you use “good” olive oil!  For the balsamic vinegar, reduce about a half a cup to two tablespoons and you’ll get the right syrup-y consistency.  They are really delicious and so easy.


The pop-overs were by far the most entertaining part of the cooking process.  The batter comes together in a snap, and it’s pretty fun to watch them rise up and pop out of the pan.  We served ours with a simple compound butter that turned out to be the perfect compliment.  I looked at a bunch of recipes for the pop-overs and they are all essentially the same.  What follows is a combination culled from everyone from John Besh to the back of the pop-over pan label from Williams Sonoma.  (Yes, we bought pop-over pans, plural, just for the occassion.)

Pop-Overs with Fig Jam Compound Butter

For the butter: Cream together 1 stick of softened butter with 1/4 cup fig jam, a pinch of salt, a few cracks of pepper, and about a teaspoon of minced thyme leaves.  Add to a little ramekin or serving dish and refrigerate before you’re ready for dinner.
For the pop-overs:
4 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
6 eggs
2 cups whole milk
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt

  1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees.  Put the pop-over pans in the oven and allow them to heat up while you prepare the batter.
  2. Combine eggs, milk, flour, and salt in a large bowl.  Beat with an electric mixer until smooth.
  3. Melt the butter and add the olive oil.  Add two tablespoons to the batter and divide the remainder among the 12 pop-over cups.  Place the pans back in the oven for about 5 minutes.
  4. Remove the pans from the oven and divide batter evenly among the cups.  Put the pans back in the oven and bake for 20 minutes.  Turn the light on to watch them rise, because you cannot open the oven once they’ve started baking or they’ll fall.   After 20 minutes, reduce the heat to 350 degrees and bake for 20 more minutes.
  5. Serve hot with the fig butter on the side.


The Bourbon Pumpkin Cheesecake comes from one of my favorite blogs, the Smitten Kitchen.  And as it happens, it is something she made when she was a newlywed, so it fit the bill perfectly.  I was a little skeptical of the sour cream-based topping, but it was delicious.  The only thing I would change when I make it next time is to skip the water bath that was suggested in the comments.  The cake came out perfectly, but I thought the crust could have been a little more crisp.  It was great though, and a perfect addition to the Thanksgiving table.

Michael’s pecan pie was another find from John Besh’s collection and his sweet potato casserole was his grandmother’s.  His turkey turned out perfect…


Kaiser thought so too….


And here’s our finished table, all ready for the feast!  It was great and such a fun treat to get to host in our new home.


Happy Belated Turkey Day!