Girl, don’t do it…

It’s not worth it.

I’m not gonna do it, I was just thinking about it. I’m not gonna do it.

I did it.

The recipe for Southern Living’s Pumpkin Spice Bundt Cake. Holy nutmeg! The perfect marriage of spice cake and pumpkin bread.

I am NOT one of those people. I don’t like rushing seasons or holidays because I inevitably get bored with them too soon. I want to put things out at an appropriate time so I can enjoy them all season long.

But the spices in this cake… pure pumpkin heaven! I had to. Just this once. I’ll now go back to summer and 100+ days and flip flops and tank tops.

But for one little Saturday in August, I simply HAD to have a little bite of Fall.

Plus!, this recipe calls for candied pecans to be sprinkled on top but I used regular pecans so basically, it’s diet food.

Don’t make this recipe too soon, (don’t do it, girl) but put it on your Fall Bucket List. It’s one of the best bundt cakes I’ve ever had (no hyperbole needed.)

Looking forward to sweaters and hot cider and football games. But not yet. There’s a little more sand-between-the-toes days to come.

enjoy!

Hawt Chocolate

We made a deliciously rich and decadent hot chocolate recently that I decided must be a part of my #2020s20HolidayCrafts. I insist you make it immediately then sit back with a good book and one of those arm-knitted throw blankets and have yourself a merry MERRY weekend-before-Christmas.

This recipe is adapted from a Southern Living magazine hot chocolate recipe.

I mean… it starts with Half and Half and milk. So you know it’ll be good. It continues with a half a can of dulce de leche. Need I say more?

Shaved dark chocolate, heavy cream, girrrl. This is some extra livin’.

After pouring a mug full of heaven, add about a tablespoon of Tennessee Honey whiskey then top it off with some homemade whipped cream.

And why not add a chocolate rolled wafer cookie while you’re at it.

ENJOY some grown-up time and thank me later.

Tennessee Hot Chocolate

  • Servings: 5-6
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print


4 cups half and half
1/2 canned or jarred dulce de leche
8 ounces chopped dark chocolate, extra for topping
Jack Daniels Tennessee Honey whiskey
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1C cold heavy cream
chocolate rolled wafer cookies (like Pirouette)

Whisk together 4 cups half and half and 1/2 cup dulce de leche in a medium saucepan. Simmer over medium heat, stirring constantly until heated through (about 10 minutes)

Remove from heat and whisk 8 ounces chopped dark chocolate, 2 teaspoons vanilla extract, and 1/4 teaspoons kosher salt until the mixture is smooth.

Next, beat 1 cup of cold heavy cream in a cold bowl with an electric mixer on high until stiff peaks form (about 1 minute)

Pour hot chocolate mixture into 4 serving cups. Add a tablespoon of whiskey. Top each with whipped cream, a drizzle of de leche and shaved chocolate. Serve with chocolate rolled wafer cookies.

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Basically I’m Ina.

Pardon me while I become a food blogger… -ha!

Those cupcakes I blogged about the other day? Those are for when family is over or you want to impress your friends with foo-foo desserts.

But after all the guests are gone and your kids are in bed, these are the cupcakes you make just for yourself.

Not only are they decadently full of chocolate, they have a secret ingredient that you really need about right now.

Yep. It’s in the recipe and in the icing.

Quarantine schmorantine.

If you want to tell your spouse about them, that’s up to you. But personally, I suggest disguising a dorm room refrigerator as a shoe storage bin and write down some excuses on the back of your hand as to why you need to keep going into your closet during the family movie marathon tonight.

Irish Cream Cupcakes

  • Servings: 24
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

INGREDIENTS FOR CUPCAKE

  • 2 cups flour
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/4 cup Bailey’s Irish Cream Original
  • 3/4 cup whole milk
  • 1/2 cup vegetable or canola oil
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 cup boiling water

INGREDIENTS FOR FROSTING

  • 2 sticks of butter, softened
  • 1/8 tsp salt
  • 3 cups powdered sugar
  • 3T Bailey’s Irish Cream Original

INSTRUCTIONS FOR CUPCAKES

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Set up cupcake liners.
  2. In a mixer bowl, combine flour, sugar, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Whisk to combine.
  3. Add milk, Bailey’s, oil, eggs and vanilla to flour mixture – mix on medium speed until well combined.
  4. Reduce speed and carefully add boiling water a little at a time – beat on high for 1 minute. The batter will be very thin and runny.
  5. Scoop batter into liners about 3/4 full
  6. Bake for 20-25 minutes. My oven baked right at 20 minutes, but adjust as needed until inserted toothpick comes out clean.

INSTRUCTIONS FOR FROSTING

  1. Cream butter and salt until fluffy
  2. Mix in 1C of powdered sugar
  3. Stir in Bailey’s
  4. Mix in remaining powdered sugar until thoroughly combined

I used the star tip to frost these then added some sprinkles for fun. The more cupcakes I taste-tested, the crazier the sprinklers got! 

E N J O Y !!

Lemon Blueberry Cupcake Perfection

I humbly submit to you that I have just made (and this can’t be stated strongly enough) the best cupcakes the world has ever known.

without rival

underrated brilliance

beyond compare

These are the phrases that leapt to mind when I bit into these amazing Lemon Blueberry Cupcakes.

Overstated? Impossible. Mere adjectives do not do them justice. These cupcakes could bring about world peace.

They involve some of my favorite color combinations: blue, yellow and cream cheese!

Below is the recipe. (You’ll thank me)

A bright, light, summer treat.

Lemon Blueberry Cupcakes

  • Servings: 12-15
  • Difficulty: just follow the directions
  • Print

INGREDIENTS FOR CUPCAKE BATTER

* 1 and 3/4 cups + 2T flour, divided
* 1 teaspoon baking powder
* 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
* 1/2 teaspoon salt
* 1/2 cup sour cream, room temperature
* 1/2 cup whole milk, room temperature
* 2 teaspoons finely grated lemon zest (zest your lemon before squeezing it for juice)
* 3T fresh lemon juice, divided (there’s nothing like freshly squeezed lemon juice)
* 3/4 cup fresh blueberries
* 1 stick unsalted butter, room temperature
* 3/4 cup granulated sugar
* 1/2 teaspoon lemon extract
* 1 large egg + one egg yolk, room temperature

INGREDIENTS FOR FROSTING

* 1 stick unsalted butter, room temperature
* 1) 8 ounce cream cheese, room temperature
* 4 cups confectioner’s sugar
* 1 and 1/2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
* 1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract (the good vanilla)
* 1/4 teaspoon lemon extract
* 1/2 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest

DIRECTIONS FOR CUPCAKE BATTER

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line muffin tins with paper liners.
2. In a medium bowl combine the 1 and 3/4 cups of flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt – set aside
3. In a separate bowl combine the sour cream, milk and 2T of lemon juice. Whisk well to combine – set aside
4. Place blueberries in a small bowl. Add remaining lemon juice and toss to coat the berries. Add remaining flour and toss to coat – set aside
5. In mixer with paddle attachment, beat butter on medium speed until smooth and creamy
6. Add in the granulated sugar and lemon extract and beat until well combined
7. Add in the egg and egg yolk and mix well. Reduce speed to low
8. Add half of the flour mixture and mix until just combined
9. Add half of the sour cream mixture until just combined
10. Repeat with remaining flour and sour cream mixture until just combined
11. Using a rubber spatula, fold in the floured blueberries and lemon zest
12. Spoon the batter into the prepared cupcake liners, filling them 3/4 of the way full
13. Bake for 16-20 minutes (check at 16 minutes with a toothpick)
14. After removing from oven, allow to cool for 5 minutes in the pan before transferring cupcakes to a cooling rack

DIRECTIONS FOR FROSTING

1. In a mixer with the paddle attachment, beat the butter and cream cheese on medium speed until smooth and creamy
2. Reduce the speed to low and gradually add in the powdered sugar and lemon juice, beating until light and fluffy – about 2 minutes
3. Add in the vanilla extract, lemon extract and lemon zest. Beat until smooth. (If the consistency is too thick, add a teaspoon of milk, but only if necessary) The frosting should be creamy and spreadable, but also thick enough to hold its shape.
4. Pipe or spread the frosting on the cupcakes.
5. To decorate: shred lemon zest on top of the cupcake. Add a couple of blueberries and sprinkles of your choice.

Loose Leaf Noted

I like the idea of tea.
I like the slow, methodical process of tea-making.
I like the ritual of afternoon tea.

It’s just the tea part I don’t really love about tea.

So I did what any good bookstagrammer would do – I took to Instagram and asked for advice. And man!, did I get responses. You guys are SERIOUS about your tea!

I thought I’d share some of the repeated responses I received in case there’s anyone else out there looking for tea help (and I know there are because many of you commiserated with me about not particularly liking tea.) So maybe some of these hints will help you out too:

  • by far the most common thread was: GET RID OF THOSE TEA BAGS! -ha! I was promised over and over again that loose leaf tea is far superior to any tea bag
  • make sure to use the correct ratio of leaves to water: 1/2 tsp per 8 oz.
  • by high quality tea!
  • if you want to add milk, brew it in water first and then add milk or creamer to it
  • whipping cream is a necessary luxury
  • Earl Grey latte: earl grey tea, honey and frothed cream
  • no need for a fancy frother: brew you tea and cream in a Mason jar, put the lid on and shake it vigorously until frothy
  • (above tip came with the comment that it’s also a great workout at the same time!)
  • use coconut milk in your chai tea
  • advice from the UK (so you know it’s legit!): you can only use milk with black tea and don’t forget to pour boiling water over the tea. Let it stand for 7 minutes before pouring from the teapot.
  • if tea is made in a teapot, pour milk in the cup before pouring in the brewed tea and if brewing in a cup, add the milk into the cup after the tea has brewed.
  • heat your milk but not to a boiling point, stir in the chai powder or syrup – no water used at all.
  • David’s Tea is awesome loose leaf tea
  • loose leaf tea is not as intimidating as it sounds if you have a good tea infuser to make it super easy
  • the best teas to use with milk are ones that contain a nutty, buttery, caramel-like tea which are most black teas and rooibos tea

These are the rules, people! 

I don’t think I’ll ever be beyond the point of adding so much honey and cream to the cup that it really can’t even be called tea anymore. I suppose that’s how young coffee drinkers start out, right?

Do you have any additional tips for us Tea Wannabees? 

Kiss the Cook

I don’t want to miss #stacksaturday with some of our favorite cookbooks. ⠀

It seems the cookbook pile in our kitchen changes seasonally, but not purposefully. It just depends on what we’re into at the time. ⠀

I am VERY lucky to have a spouse who loves to cook (he claims it’s therapeutic for him) as I love to read recipes and find new tastes to experience. Also…I love to eat! ☺️⠀

Are you the cook in your household or do you get to experience someone else’s meals?

Family Al Fresco

It’s that time of year. School is finished (or soon to be), the temperature is rising and sleeping in is on every teens agenda. If you have kids at home, a common summertime question is ‘What’s there to eat?’ I might be able to help with that last question with some simple summer meal items.

I recently posted on social media about a family meal we had outside (al fresco: in the open air). I was contacted by a few people asking me to post a more detailed explanation. I promised a blog post about some DIY tablescape hacks that made the evening a little easier and the simple summertime recipes we used to make our family meal a success.

My extended family came to visit us in California. The enormous sacrifice they made – financially and most importantly, timing and scheduling – meant a lot to me. Scott and I wanted to have one evening where we all sat down together around a family table and simply relaxed into an evening of conversation and California weather.

For those of you that are fans of the tv series, Parenthood, you’ll understand my desire to have a Parenthood-style dinner together in our backyard, under the lights and California setting sun.

First of all, I needed a long table.

We took our dining room table out to the patio plus used another dining table we have in the garage that Scott uses as a work table. The work table was a few inches shorter than our dining table so we used wooden blocks to prop it up to be an equal height.

acs_1114

I was tempted to do a charcuterie board down the center of the ‘long table’ but ultimately decided it was too fussy and one more thing for me to plan out. My goal was for all of us to feel comfortable and laid-back so I nixed the cheese board idea.

Instead, Scott cut me a long piece of 2×4 board, sanded all the edges round and stained it. He coated it in coconut oil to seal in the stain.

I cut rosemary from our large rosemary bush and lavender from the three Spanish lavender bushes we bought in the Fall. They were three small bushes when we purchased them but they have grown SO BIG over the past six months! As an aside – I knew the rosemary would last a long time but I wasn’t sure of the lavender. I cut it all just a few hours before our meal. For awhile, it was sitting in the hot afternoon sun. The rosemary held up great but the lavender got a little wilty looking. By the next day it was shriveled. So make sure to cut the lavender fairly close to the event. This served as a nice centerpiece but also held off any flying insects that don’t particularly care for the smell of the rosemary. Win-win! At the last minute, I grabbed some clementines in our kitchen and haphazardly placed them among the rosemary and lavender for a pop of color. I also cut a small sprig of rosemary to place on the napkin at each place setting. Super easy way to put a finishing touch on the appearance of each setting. If you don’t have a rosemary bush in the backyard, rosemary plants are easy to find at grocery stores and gardening centers. (We use ours for cooking all the time!)

I wanted the table to be somewhat minimal in decoration. Casual and welcoming. Here are a few ways I hacked the table decor…

I am a big fan of this set of three candlesticks from IKEA. I have two sets and use them in different spots in our home. Their stark black added just the right amount of drama to the setting without being fussy or overwhelming.

I am a big fan of linen. I love its look and universal appeal. It’s not faddish or decade-specific, which is just the kind of decor I adore! But if we’re all honest, linen can be expensive, right??

A good rule of thumb for just about every decor situation (and more!) is to mix and match real with fake. I went to Harbor Freight and bought two canvas paint dropcloths. They resemble linen and cost about $15 each. Spilled wine? No problem. Dropped food? It will either wash out or, I have a new dropcloth to use! No fuss. No problem.

I even used another dropcloth I had to sew a basketful of coasters for the table (instructions here.) The trick to using dropcloth for your projects is to wash them first. I generally wash them 2-3 times to soften them up and get the distinctive smell out of them. Once they’re softer, the possibilities are limitless.

I mixed the canvas tablecloths with actual linen napkins from World Market. I used 4 different neutral colors to tie everything together without looking too matchy.

acs_1178

I have really enjoyed my ‘wonky’ dishes from Magnolia. It seems like not that long ago that we lined up outside Target, waiting for the doors to open on the new Magnolia line, Hearth and Hand. I elbowed and crowded in with other Joanna Gaines style followers. I think I grabbed a 4-plate setting the first day and have been picking up more bowls and serving trays ever since. They’re a little harder to find these days but they pair well with a line of dishes from World Market. Again, mixing and matching takes the exactness out of any task (my biggest design hint.) I love the uneven edges of both lines. They look like they’ve just come off a potter’s wheel. Love it.

The table was set with a mixture of items but they all fell into a neutral palette, therefore pulling them all together cohesively. The neutral foundation allowed the colorful food to stand out and shine.

And speaking of the food…

I had to constantly put before myself the goal of the evening: easy, laid-back, casual. I didn’t want Scott and I to have to spend all our time in the kitchen and not sitting with our family enjoying the evening. The following were some of the recipes we used. Many can be put together in advance.

This Avocado Corn salad is de.li.cious. It tastes like summer. It killed Scott a little to have to buy tomatoes since his aren’t ready yet -ha. (All the recipes are at the end of this post.) I’m of the opinion that putting an avocado with just about anything makes it better. You can use fresh corn on the cob but we opted for frozen sweet corn from Trader Joe’s. The very smell of cucumbers makes me want to rush outside. It is such a fresh summer smell.

I’m sure I will receive a lot of crap for this (probably deservedly so), but……..I don’t care for fresh onions. There. I’ve said it. The color of purple onions would round out this salad nicely and 99.9% of the world will put it in.

This Pecan Apple Slaw is a constant in our refrigerator this season. It’s light and easy to keep in the fridge for those quick food cravings. The juicy Craisins make it almost snack-like.

My sweet 21-year-old niece sent me a thank you text after they left to go back to Kansas City. She ended the text with “…and I neeeeeeed that zucchini boat recipe!” -ha! Again, these are easy to make and a great addition to just about any meal. The recipe came from Ina Garten so you know it’s trustworthy! We’ve made them several times and are always happy with the results. Crunchy and salty – my favorite combination.

The main dish was Caprese Chicken. For an easily prepared dish, it packed a lot of flavor. The key is fresh mozzarella and the balsamic glaze.

To be honest, we were introduced to balsamic glaze by a friend just last year. We’ve been ardent fans ever since. There are soooo many things you can use it on! It’s thicker than regular balsamic and adds the perfect tangy-sweet flavor to side dishes as well as many meats.

Maybe it’s just me, but drinks for a dinner can get a little stressful. Do you offer a million options or do you limit it to just a few? My answer for this very flavor-packed meal was to simply serve water. I used some inexpensive water decanters and placed mint leaves in milk white jars on the table. My neighbor gifted me with a starter lemon mint bush and wowzers has it grown! I can’t use enough mint to keep up. So even if it was just decoration and no one used it, it was worth trimming back my container and it added another natural element to the table.

We ended the evening with a HAPPY BIRTHDUATION cake for the people having birthdays and graduating high school. Had it not been for that, I would have gone with a simple Peanut Butter Pie. It’s another easy recipe you make ahead and is always a crowd pleaser.

And because we’re in California, the evenings can get a little chilly if the conversation lingers long enough. I rolled up some favorite throw blankets, put them into a basket and took it outside. When people started getting cool, they grabbed a blanket and the conversation never even paused. No searching for or asking about a blanket – it was right there at the ready when they needed it. (And bonus: it looked cute while it was waiting to serve!)

I hope these suggestions sparked a few ideas of your own. Gathering family and friends together (no dreaded ‘kids table’ separation!) is always my idea of a perfect evening. Multiple conversations interrupted only slightly by the ‘Could you please pass me the…’ requests is pure joy to me.

Before sharing the recipes with you at the bottom, will you indulge me in a few family shots from our Family Al Fresco evening??

Wishing you a season of good food, simple pleasures and all the bent-in-half-ugly-laughing your soul can take!

Corn Tomato Avocado Salad

INGREDIENTS
corn kernels from 1 large steamed corn on the cobb (1 cup)
5 ounces diced avocado from 1 medium avocado
1.5 cup diced Persian cucumbers (about 3 small)
1 cup halved cherry tomatoes
2T diced red onion
2 tsp extra virgin olive oil
1/4 tsp kosher salt
fresh black pepper to taste

DIRECTIONS
Toss all ingredients together and serve.

Cranberry Pecan Slaw

INGREDIENTS
2) 11oz bagged cole slaw mix
1 large Gala or Honeycrisp apple – chopped
1 cup dried cranberries
1 cup chopped pecan

Dressing:
3/4 cup mayonnaise
3/4 cup sour cream (can substitute with yogurt)
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
2% honey
1/2 tsp salt

DIRECTIONS
1. Add slaw mix, apple, cranberries, pecans and onions to a large bowl. Too to mix all ingredients. Set aside.
2. In a small bowl, add mayo, sour cream, vinegar, honey, salt and pepper. Whisk together until smooth. Pour 3/4 of dressing over slaw and toss until mixed well. Add remaining dressing if desired.
3. Serve immediately. Slaw can be stored, covered in the refrigerator until ready to serve. Toss slightly.

Zucchini Boats

INGREDIENTS
3-4 smallish zucchini
2T fresh parsley
2T fresh basil
1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese
salt and pepper
3/4 cup panko
3.5T olive oil

DIRECTIONS
1. Cut the ends off the zucchini
2. Cut in half lengthwise
3. Scoop out center seeds (this is what makes it watery)
4. Put on a sheet pan and brush with oil and salt
5. Turn them over (scooped side down)
6. Cook at 425 degrees for 12 minutes
7. Turn them back over
8. Fill the cavity with panko mixture
9. Put them back in the oven for 8-10 minutes until browned and crisp

Chicken Caprese

INGREDIENTS

1 lb boneless skinless chicken breasts
1T olive oil
salt and pepper to taste
1 tsp dry Italian seasoning
4 thick slices of ripe tomato
4 slices of fresh mozzarella cheese
2T balsamic glaze
2T thinly sliced basil

DIRECTIONS

1. Heat a grill over medium heat
2. Drizzle 1T of olive oil over chicken and season to taste with salt and pepper
3. Sprinkle Italian seasoning over the chicken
4. Place the chicken on the grill and cook for 3-5 minutes per side, or until done. Cook time will vary depending on the thickness of the chicken breasts
5. When chicken is done, top with a slice of cheese and cook for one more minute
6. Remove from heat and place chicken on a plate. Top each breast with a slice of tomato, thinly sliced basil and salt and pepper to taste
7. Drizzle with balsamic glaze and serve

Peanut Butter Pie

INSTRUCTIONS
1 graham cracker crust
1/2 gallon vanilla ice cream
1.5 cup creamy PB (or crunchy PB for more crunch)

DIRECTIONS

1. Soften ice cream enough to swirl in PB completely (considerably soft)
2. Mix in PB as evenly as possible
3. Pour into crust and freeze
4. Remove a few minutes before serving for easier cutting