The Comeback Recipe

One of my most requested recipes is honestly not mine.  Shameful I know but you cannot mess with perfection and Kelsey has perfected this one.  Creamy cheeses perfectly paired and melted slowly together making the best mac and cheese you have ever had.  Bold statement right?  It’s a bold recipe.

Kelsey Nixon’s Skillet Bacon Mac and Cheese

Ingredients:

1 pound of pasta, your choice

1 tsp.  dry mustard

1/4 tsp.  ground cayenne pepper

2 cups shredded sharp cheddar

1 cup grated gruyere cheese

1 cup, plus 1/2 cup grated parmesan

1 cup milk

1/4 cup heavy cream

1 1/2 cups panko (Japanese) bread crumbs

2 tbsp.  flat leaf parsley

6 slices bacon, cooked reserved 1/4 cup rendered bacon fat

Béchamel sauce ingredients:

1/4 cup butter

1/4 cup flour

3 cups hot milk

1/4 tsp.  nutmeg

salt & pepper to taste

Directions:

Boil water for pasta, once boiling please cook until almost al dente and drain.  Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

Make béchamel sauce, melt butter in 12 inch oven proof skillet.  Whisk in flour and stir constantly until it starts to bubble, around 2 minute (don’t let it brown).  Gradually add the hot milk and stir constantly until thickened.  Add nutmeg, salt, pepper, reduce heat and cook for a couple more minutes.  Remove from heat.

On a low heat add the dry mustard and cayenne pepper to the béchamel sauce.  Either take the skillet off the heat or on the lowest setting you have and add cheese, stir quickly until smooth (this is key to avoiding that gritty cheese texture).  Add the milk and cream to the sauce to thin it out a bit.

In another skillet brown bacon until crispy, reserve 1/4 cup bacon fat.  Add cooked pasta to béchamel sauce. In a separate bowl mix bread crumbs, chopped parsley, and bacon fat, sprinkle this mixture over the pasta mixture.  Sprinkle another 1/2 cup parmesan on top of the pasta as well.  Bake until top is browned between 20-25 minutes depending on your ovens heat.  Enjoy!

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Must Eats Houston

As anyone who knows me knows, I am always looking for the hottest new restaurants.  Being that I have completely embraced my new home, I wanted to share my picks for must eat if you’re visiting the great city of Houston for the holidays.

These are in no particular order so feel free to pick the ones that suit you best

1.  Coltivare:  This fabulous restaurant was opened by the same owners as the community beloved Revival Market.  All who know Revival and all of their wonderful local groceries are not surprised at Coltivare’s success.  Opening the beginning of last year Houstonians have embraced this local gem.  It has already been named Houstonia magazine’s top new restaurant of the year and was nominated in Bon Appetit magazine’s top 50 new restaurants in America for 2014.  Foodies and normal folk alike are enjoying truly local ingredients, house made fresh pasta, veggies from the restaurants garden, seasonal menu changes, and the best pizza this side of Italy.  I cannot stress enough if you eat one meal in Houston, it should be here.  Come prepared to wait because they are pulling a April Bloomfield on us all, no reservations…  The secret is out and it is completely worth your wait!

2.  Punks Simple Southern Food:  For those of you raised in the South and imported to the big city, you will be pleasantly surprised by this new foodie spot.  Think back to your hometown, the local dive that cut the entire chicken apart, hand breaded, and fried it, the way it is supposed to be.  When I say all pieces, I mean even the coveted “pully bone”, and if you don’t know what that is google it.  Growing up after church on Sundays we would hurry to lunch and fight over the pully bones in the buffet.  My favorite item on the menu is obviously the fried chick, you can order it for 1-2 people or 3-4 people.  Everything comes out family style, served with one of their fabulous made from scratch biscuits, and a new take on your grandma’s mashed potatoes, mashed horseradish (trust me on this one).  The restaurant is plays old country (think Dolly Parton and Johnny Cash), has a fabulous rustic feel, a neon “Southern” sign, and the ceiling is covered with an eclectic mix of chandeliers.  For this Houston import its like taking a more upscale trip back to the dinner I grew up with in small town Arkansas.

James at Punks

The Hubby enjoying a fried chicken plate at Punks

3.  Ruggles Green:  I add this one to the list because I am still amazed at the number of people who have not been here.  Ruggles was originally started with money that was won from a recipe contest that the owner had submitted his fabulous white chocolate bread pudding recipe to.  You may hate bread pudding, but then you must have never had Ruggles bread pudding.  Trust me when I say they deserved the fund to start these local restaurants.  The original restaurant is in the Montrose area of town but then they have Ruggles Bakery, The Original Ruggles, and my favorite Ruggles Green.  They have several locations, so lucky for you whatever part of this massive growing city you visit you probably have a Ruggles Green with in 20 minute of you.  It is a certified organic restaurant  with the answer to any food allergy issue you may have.  I have literally tried almost everything on the menu and it is all good.  They have everything from burgers and sandwiches to pastas and pizzas.  They work with local  farmers and even for this veggie lover, their salads are probably the best in town.

4.  Americas:  It doesn’t get much more Houston than this except for my next recommendation.  This is a South American restaurant with possibly one of the best steaks you’ll ever eat.  Don’t let people lie to you, skip Taste of Texas, and Vallones, go to Americas.  Especially for the odd ball like me who still must have the have the steak well done.  The steak is always tender and full of flavor.  Do not leave this restaurant without ordering one of their wonderful tres leche cake.  Their tres leche cake is just as iconicity Houston as the Ruggles bread pudding in my opinion.  On a side note the same team runs Churrascos, Arista, and Amazon Grill, all also great restaurants.

Americas

On my Birthday a few years ago enjoying a tres leche cake at Americas.

5.  Hugos:  This is probably the most iconic Houston restaurant and it is a great example of excellent Tex Mex.  Chef Hugo Ortega actually has three fabulous restaurants.  All are equally good, the Tex Mex is just the best example of our local fare.  Backstreet café another of his restaurants has one of the best brunch in town and Caracol (the newest restaurant  of Chef Hugos) has a wonderful authentic Mexican take on seafood.

Backstreet Cafe

The hubby and I enjoying brunch at Backstreet Café .

I know I left many restaurants off including the best donut shop, see here.  So now I have technically given you six options (including my donut pic).  So many great Houston restaurants so little time.

Practicing Pecan Pie

Now say the title of this post three times fast….  Anytime I think of pecan pie I think of When Harry Met Sally and Billy Crystal getting Megan Ryan to say “Peeecan pie” in the most ridiculous voice..  Seriously, can’t you see him saying it to her?

When Harry met Sally

It’s that time again, time that we start practicing our new Thanksgiving recipes.  This year I have found a fabulously unique pecan pie recipe that will have all of your guest’s mouths watering before they even get through the door at Thanksgiving (this will also win over any new significant other’s fam, guaranteed).  I cannot take the credit for this one unfortunately, it is from one of my all time favorite cookbooks, The Four & Twenty Blackbirds Pie Book.  If you don’t have it, do not hesitate, click here now and buy this amazing pie book.  The book is written by two sisters who somewhat serendipitously fell into their careers as pie shop owners.  All owners of this cook book or patrons of their bakery, thank them for their decision.

I have adapted their Black Walnut recipe to be a Pecan Pie recipe due to what I had on hand.  I’m sure it would be equally as wonderful with whatever walnut or pecan you’d like to sub in.

Pecan Pie

Ingredients:

One single-crust partially prebaked

1 cup pecans

1 cup granulated sugar

6 tablespoons unsalted butter

2 tablespoons water

3/4 cup apple cider

2 teaspoon cider vinegar

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon ground ginger

2 teaspoons stone-ground cornmeal

3 large eggs

Position one of the oven racks to the center of the oven and preheat it to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.  Spread the pecans out on a cookie sheet and toast in the oven for 5-7 minutes (depending on your oven’s heat).  Put aside in small bowl to cool.

Combine the sugar, butter, and water in a saucepan.  Cook over medium heat until deep golden brown or until candy thermometer reads 230 degrees Fahrenheit.  Turn the heat off and slowly pour in the apple cider (the caramel will bubble).  Add the vinegar and whisk until smooth.  Pour the cider mixture into a mixing bowl and leave until cool to the touch.  Whisk in the salt, cinnamon, ginger, and cornmeal.  Whisk the eggs in a separate bowl.  Slowly pour in 1/3 cup cider mixture into the eggs to temper.  Add cider-egg mixture to the bowl.  Stir the toasted walnuts in.

Place the partially prebaked crust on a rimmed cookie sheet and pour in the filling.  Bake on the middle rack for 30-35 minutes, rotate the pie about half way through to ensure even baking.  The pie is done when the edges are set and the center is still slightly wobbly (remember the filling will continue to cook after it is out of the oven).  Allow to cool for 1-2 hours, serve at any temperature you would like.  The pie will keep in the refrigerator for 3-4 days.

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From our home to yours, enjoy!

The Christmas Party and the best Macarons ever!

I’m alive!!! I hate it has been so long since the last post so I promise this one will have been worth the wait. I’m giving my readers my most requested recipe……. My favorite macaron recipe. My Macarons have made an appearance at almost all events I have hosted and brought to the all events attended….. Most macaron recipes are terrifying but these are full proof….. Promise!

First I’m sharing all of the details that went into my Christmas party this year, feel free to adapt for New Years!

The Chalkboard wall….. My wall has been reprinted on Pinterest enough times that I think y’all are as excited as I am when I get to change it… So I reveal my Christmas wall…. Lights and all..

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The tables were decked out

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Dishes . Festive Glasses . Mason Jar Lanterns

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Note the pillow on the coach below made into a Christmas pillow by tying a beautiful crushed velvet ribbon around it, easy DIY decor for about $3.50!

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Please also note the ornament chandelier made using dollar store ornaments and some of the hubby’s fishing lines…. Another inexpensive DIY with scrap fresh greenery picked up at a nursery

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The rest of the house was extra festive….

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My favorite Christmas candle, Alpine Frost, made my whole house smell like a real tree (since I cheat with a fake one)

Now for the food set up…. I had everyone bring food but as all good hostesses know you need to be ready for all possibilities aka in case everyone forgets their food….
The grilled cheese bar was a hit and super easy, prep the tray to set out as guests arrive, and have a griddle ready in the kitchen for them to fry them up…

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The Drink bar…. I used tea but really any drink you serve looks prettier with frozen fruit in it…..
Oh and more fake snow…. The only way to see snow in Houston 🙂

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And everyone’s favorite set up…….. THE HOT COCOA BAR!

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I used my chalkboard banner (made with chalkboard paper and cardboard), which has become another regular decor item for my parties, as well as green card stock cut out like holly leaves as labels for the toppings…. Add whatever you like in your hot cocoa! This is the perfect set up make it your own.

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Best Cookie Cutter Ever.

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And now…….

The one…..

The only…….

Macaron Recipe:

5 cups Almond Flour
5 3/4 cups Confectioners Sugar
1 1/4 cups egg whites (7-8 large eggs), room temperature
2 Tbs. + 1 tsp. sugar
pinch cream of tartar
2 tsp vanilla

Combine confectioners sugar and almond flour in a bowl, pulse in batches in the food processor. This process makes for a lighter cookie and for the cook that likes a easy way out, is much easier than sifting…

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Whip egg whites until they become frothy, then add cream of tartar and sugar while mixer is still going… Continue beating until egg whites for stiff peaks and look like this…

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Fold in 1/4 of the dry mix with the egg whites and add vanilla. Add this mixture to the rest of the dry mix folding in and mix by pressing against the sides of the bowl (this makes a difference in the texture). Mix until just combined, over mixing will be the end of the cookie but you’ll be fine while mixing by hand..

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Start prepping the pans (roughly three 9 by 13 cookie sheets). Line each with parchment paper and outline two inch wide circles (I used my espresso press).

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Pipe the batter into the outlines… Then drop the pan on the counter a couple times to get out any bubbles..

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Let these cookies sit in a cool dry place until they form a skin roughly about an hour then bake on 325 for 11 minutes, turn the pan and bake for another 10 minutes.. They should form the feet about half way through the cooking.
This is one of mine as I get ready to sandwich it with caramel and fleur de sel.

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Fill these with what ever favor you like, jam, icing, caramel, ect…. I filled some with caramel and I mixed crushed peppermint with vanilla icing to fill others…

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You can use a simple syrup (boil equal parts sugar and water) to brush on and decorate with sprinkles to make them more festive. This is a more rustic macaron than the traditional french but it is has more chew to it….. It is by far my favorite recipe and I have tried more than my fair share of macaron recipes…

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These are perfect for all of your holiday or not so holiday gatherings… My friends and family always love them (it will make you look liked a french pastry chef)! The party was as big of a hit as the cookies.

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I hope all of your holiday festivities are fabulous and Santa loves the macarons you set out for him! From our home to yours Merry Christmas!

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The Most Simple.. Most Wonderful Pie Crust… Ever

Leftovers, my favorite blanket, and lots of movie watching on the couch……. All signs Thanksgiving is over, Black Friday has been survived, and we’re moving into Christmas full swing. Before I start my Christmas Posts I’m sharing a Thanksgiving recap, a fabulous pie crust, and decor ideas you can use for all your holiday entertaining.

As you all know we hosted our first Thanksgiving this year and we pulled out all the stops. Due to the overwhelming response to the pics of my home decor on Pinterest I’m starting to share some of my favorite buys and tips.

1. Start with the dishes, my favorite step to planning any get together is choosing the glassware and dishes I’ll use. For my first Thanksgiving there was no better excuse to buy enough additional plates of my wedding china to fill my new table for ten. As well as these fabulous gold chargers… The more sparkle the better in my opinion, nothing more festive than sparkle!

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Plates. Gold Chargers, Glasses

2. Now for my table scape….
Always use a fresh item (pumpkins for this look), think flowers, tree limbs, or fresh fruit….

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I borrowed Mercury Mason Jars from my Mom’s massive party supply room.
I was so excited to purchase my first Candelabra ! It was the perfect touch to pull in the gold of the chargers!

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The ombré antique bowl in the center of the table brings me to my next necessity to all table settings, an hierloom piece gives any set up character, and makes it uniquely yours. Plus it was perfect filled with home made bread

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3. Great food and some fabulous platters/ plates to place them in…. Prepare for the food porn…

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Mom’s Scalloped Potatoes… Recipe to come soon!!!!

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Cranberry Bacon Brussel Sprouts

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Nana’s Candied Sweet Potatoes

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Not my Mama’s Dressing (Bacon and Bourbon Dressing)

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James’s Country Rosemary and Sea salt Bread

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White Truffle Mashed Potatoes

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Martha’s Dry Brined Turkey…. It’s almost a tradition at our house for James to try a new Turkey recipe every year… This one was especially simple and wonderful. I plated it on my favorite Platter

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My wonderful Thanksgiving Plate…Yumm!

Now for the best part of any meal…….dessert

My pies this year were truly ridiculous all because of my recent purchase….

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For the first time ever I’m sharing a recipe from somebody outside of my family’s collection…. I hope you all realize how much this must mean I think of this recipe… I give you the best pie crust recipe ever from The Four and Twenty Blackbirds Bakery Cookbook

Single Pie Crust

1 1/4 cups of unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
11/2 teaspoons granulated sugar
1/4 pound (1 stick) cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1 cup cold water
1/4 cup cider vinegar
1 cup of ice

Stir flour, salt, and sugar in large mixing bowl. Add the butter pieces, making sure each is coated in the dry mix so it won’t all stick together. Use pastry blender to work quickly into a mix until there are pea size pieces of butter remaining.

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Combine the water, cider vinegar, and ice in a measuring cup.

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Sprinkle two tablespoons of the ice mixture over the flour mixture and cut it in with a bench scraper. Add more of the ice mixture, 1 or 2 Tablespoons at a time, using the scraper or your hands (as I recommend) to mix until the dough comes to a ball.

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Sprinkle the dry bits with more small drops of water mixture if necessary to combine. Shape the dough into a flat disc, wrap in plastic, and refrigerate for at least 1 hour, preferably over night to give the crust time to “mellow”.

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The dough can be refrigerated for up to three days. When ready roll out about two inches larger than the pie pan your using or 1/8 inch thick.

I made three beautiful pies with the dough that are all also in the cook book…. All of which were magical… Cheesy yes but do true.. I’m not even a pie person but on bite of one of these pies and you too will be a convert….

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Browned Butter Pumpkin Pie (with a creme brûlée topping I added to the recipe), the over all favorite

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Black Bottom Oatmeal (the hubby’s favorite)

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Salted Carmel Apple Pie (by far my favorite)

Thanksgiving is all about appreciating the details…

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The Cake Plate my hubby bought my for our first hosting of a family holiday. Which turned out the be perfect to place my favorite pie on..

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It’s the bitters that flavored the sugar perfectly to coat the apples in my new favorite pie, a well placed heirloom bowl, it’s the recipe cards worn from age being used to recreate favorite childhood recipes, and the company of course….. Good company

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Happy Holidays from our home to yours!