Saturday, January 24, 2015

Something Like Winter - French Onion Soup

Winter in Austin, Texas is a strange thing. As a New Englander, I thought that up North we had the most haphazard weather (freezing one minute, hot the next, rain, sun, thunderstorms in the same day, winter too long and summer too short), but Austin is definitely giving it a run for its money.

The sun makes me happy,
and so does my favorite dress.

In the past week in Austin I've been able to wear a winter coat and a sun dress. It's been 30s and it's been near 70. I went from living in an endless winter to enjoying a sort-of winter with bits of summer in between.

Hey, I'm not complaining. That's why I moved here! I need the sun, I like it popping in to say hello like this. The days of the week I can bask in the sun like a cat are worth the days I have to turn up the heat and curl up WITH my cat (and dog) instead.

And if I have this soup, all the better.

Just look. at. that. CHEESE!

French Onion Soup has been on my culinary bucket list for years. My fiancé's mom makes the most amazing version of this, and it's what I request whenever we visit. She typically pairs it with homemade popovers (with butter and honey those are absolutely amazing) but I haven't had the guts to try that one yet.

This recipe is a combination of what she showed me over Christmas, and Alton Brown's dummy-proof recipe. The result was pretty fantastic, and I highly recommend you make this the next time a chill comes through. Bursting with flavor, paired with toasty bread and gooey cheese. Delicious.

French Onion Soup
(Loosely based on Alton Brown's recipe)

  • 5 yellow onions (or a combination of yellow and red), sliced to 1/4" thick
  • 3 tbsp butter
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • 1/2 tsp pepper
  • 2 cups mild red wine
  • 5 cups beef broth
  • 2 chicken stock cubes
  • 1 tbsp sherry vinegar
  • 1 sprig thyme
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 tsp dried or fresh chopped parsley
  • 4 slices baguette, toasted and brushed with butter
  • 4 slices provolone cheese

-In a large dutch oven or large heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium heat, melt the butter. Once melted, add a layer of onions and sprinkle with salt. Continue until all onions are in the Dutch oven.

-Cover the dutch oven and let onions sweat for at least 15 minutes. After the onions look shiny and wet, gently stir. Add the pepper and sugar. Let cook, stirring occasionally, until the onions are deep caramel in color.

-Once onions have reduced to about two cups, pour in the wine. Turn heat to high. Let the wine reduce until thick, about 7 minutes or so.

-Add the broth, stock cubes, sherry vinegar, thyme, bay leaves, and parsley. Simmer for 20 minutes.

-Remove thyme and bay leaves. Heat oven to broil.

-Pour into four croques or heat-save bowls set on a cookie sheet. Place bread and a slice of provalone over each. Broil until cheese is bubbly. Serve hot.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Chemistry In the Kitchen - Coconut Mango Cake Deliciousness

I don't do a lot of baking. It's pretty much tasty chemistry, and due to a strange school policy that required gym class to graduate but not chem, I never took it.

So I was pretty stoked that with a few small changes, I turned a cupcake recipe into a moist, dense cake recipe. It's not rocket science (it's chem... remember?)  but I'm proud of myself. Plus the frosting is entirely of my own design, as is the filling.

Shout out to HEB* and their fan-freaking-tastic international section, I found mango pulp for $2. I suggest searching for this in an Indian grocery store, or pureeing a really ripe mango and going all-natural. It's up to you!

Next time, I'm going to double the recipe and make more layers. This cake is small, so I suggest making two batches if you're feeding more than a couple people.

It's a lovely little burst of summer in the middle of winter.

Coconut Mango Cake with Coconut Buttercream
(Adapted from Ming Makes Cupcakes)

  • 1 cup flour
  • 1/4 cup dried coconut (if you omit this, reduce the water to 2 tablespoons)
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/4 cup + 1 tbsp light olive oil
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1 egg
  • 1 1/4 cup mango pulp
  • 1/4 cup water


  • 1/4 cup mango pulp + 1 tbsp mango pulp
  • 1/2 cup heavy whipping cream
  • 1/4 cup powdered sugar


  • 1 stick butter, softened
  • 3 tbsp full fat coconut milk
  • 4-6 cups powdered sugar
  • 1/2 cup dried, toasted coconut

-Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

-In a stand mixer, mix together all of the wet cake ingredients. In a separate bowl, whisk together all of the dry cake ingredients.

-Slowly add the dry ingredients to the wet. Grease and flour two 8 inch circular cake pans. Pour the batter into the cake pans and bake for 20 minutes. Cool completely.

-Prepare the filling: Whip the cream, powdered sugar, and 1 tbsp mango pulp until soft peaks form. When cake is cool, spread remaining pulp in the center of one cake, top with whipped cream mixture and top cake piece.

-Prepare the buttercream: In a stand mixer, mix together the butter and coconut milk. Slowly add powdered sugar until desired frosting thickness is reached. Frost the cooled, assembled cake and sprinkle with toasted coconut.

*In case it needs disclosing, I've worked with HEB in the past on paid promotions. However, I was a huge fan of the grocery store before that, and any partnerships have just been a great bonus ;)

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Can You Tell My Cat Does My Styling? - Spicy Shrimp Bake

This post was a long time coming. I'd like to thank my bloggy bestie, Sarah of Dash and a Pinch, for this absolutely amaze-balls recipe, which I have been building upon over the past few months. And I don't use that compliment lightly. Amaze-balls.

In order to describe to you how really, truly AMAZE-BALLS this shrimp bake is, I'm even going to admit something borderline embarrassing to you guys (or, y'all, if I'm talking Texas)... I literally drink the sauce when the shrimp is gone. It is THAT good.

In addition, I'd like to thank my cat for his help with food styling and props. I keep telling him he has to take up freelance styling full time but his heart is in his current position, as decorative pillow on the couch.

Who am I to push him away from all that?

In reality, when there is a new thing in the room that he can perch on,
he will perch.
Anyways. Do yourself a favor: next time shrimp is on sale, make this recipe. It's perfect. Spicy, lemony, buttery, and the sauce is perfect for sopping up with a crusty piece of bread. I even made homemade bread for this. Because that's what it DESERVES.

Spicy Shrimp Bake
(Adapted from Dash and a Pinch)
  • 1.5 lbs raw shrimp
  • 1.5 sticks butter
  • 3 tbsp worcestershire sauce
  • 1 tsp hot sauce
  • 1 tsp fresh rosemary, chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, diced
  • 2 lemons, one juiced one sliced
  • 2 tbsp cajun seasoning (more or less, depending on how spicy you like things)
  • 1/2 tsp black pepper

-Heat oven to 400 degrees F.

-In a glass baking dish, microwave the butter until melted. Whisk in the remaining ingredients, except for the shrimp. Taste, and adjust spice to your desired level. Toss in shrimp.

-Bake for 20-25 minutes, or until shrimp is pink. Serve over crusty bread with a generous ladle of sauce.

Monday, January 5, 2015

A New Englander Attempts Pimento Cheese Spread

So, here's the recipe I wanted to get up here before the holidays, because it makes an excellent side dish or appetizer, and it's super easy to put together! Aside from the pimentos, I typically have all these things in the house, too.

But... you all know how the holidays go. Craziness. I was able to get my HEB Joyville Progressive Holiday Dinner post up, and then with the preparations to drive across the country to be back in Massachusetts for the holidays, I wasn't able to do much else. Plus I lost the initial pictures I took of this deliciousness so I had to start from scratch.

Enough excuses. One of my many, many new year's resolutions is to focus more on the blog. Now that I FINALLY HAVE MY CAMERA BACK this should be easier to accomplish in the new year. New, better photos and recipes. Wait and see, should be a good time.

Anyways. Pimento cheese was something totally new to me, as a New Englander during her first year in Texas. When I first tested this recipe, I simply threw in the ingredients I found on the Wikipedia page (yes, pimento spread has it's own Wikipedia page) and hoped for the best. It was tasty... but did it pass the test? I brought in the results to my coworkers and my desk-mate, a true Texan, said it was the best Pimento cheese he's ever had!

So I guess I did it right the first time ;)

As I said, this is the perfect appetizer for any gathering. Add a bit more mayo and cream cheese to make a dip, or a bit more cheese to make a cheeseball, or leave as-is for a spreadable cracker snack. The possibilities are truly endless!

Pimento Cheese Spread
(Adapted loosely from Wikipedia)

  • 1 8oz bag sharp cheddar cheese
  • 1 8oz bag colby jack cheese
  • 1 oz brick cream cheese (I used neufchantel)
  • 2/4 cup mayonnaise
  • 1 4oz jar pimento peppers, drained and diced
  • 1 jalapeno, seeded and diced small
  • 1 tsp garlic powder
  • 1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
  • 1/2 tsp onion powder
  • 1/2 tsp paprika

*keep a bit extra cheddar cheese on hand in case cheese mixture gets too soft*

-In a stand mixer fixed with a paddle attachment, combine all ingredients. Stir until well combined, adding more cheese or mayo to desired consistency (I like mine with a bit more cheese). Taste, adding more seasonings as desired

Saturday, January 3, 2015

Goose Island Holiday Barnstorm with Dinnerlab and Do512

Before the craziness of the holidays set in, I was lucky enough to be invited to Do512's Goose Island Holiday Barnstorm with bites by Dinnerlab! And for once, this was an event I knew the fiancé would enjoy--beer and Tex-Mex inspired cuisine? Such a win.

I'd actually never had Goose Island beer before, so I was excited to taste the holiday lineup and food pairings that the brewery had to offer for us. I came away with a full belly and a few new favorite brews.

My favorite was Sofie, the Belgian style Farmhouse Ale. Goose Island, though recently acquired by a larger company, has always had a commitment to craft beer. From their website, "Goose Island is an innovator and leader in the craft of brewing. Striving to create beers that define styles, win awards, and captivate the hearts, imaginations, and palates of beer drinkers." After tasting the incredible lineup, I can see why they win so many awards!

And the food truly was incredible. According to their website, "Dinner Lab is a consumer dining experience that brings together up and coming chefs and an exclusive membership interested in exploring innovative ideas in food to unique spaces that would never otherwise be known to the public." I can't wait to check out more of their events!

The menu went like this...

Pork Belly paired with the Belgian Style Pale Ale

Elotes paired with the Sofie Belgian Farmhouse Ale

Empanada paired with the India Pale Ale

Consomme de Caribito paired with the Festivity Brown Ale

And some sort of butternut squash deliciousness that wasn't on the menu nor had a pairing.

And for dessert--S'mores! Paired with the Bourbon Country Barleywine.

The venue chosen for the feast was the Rockin' Y Ranch, a private residence that's rented out for events. Had we not chosen to have our wedding back in MA, this would definitely be a contender. My pictures of the venue itself didn't come out too well because it was so dark, but the grounds were beautiful. Keeping Rockin' Y in mind for anything we might need it for in the future! 

 Overall, it was an awesome event and I was excited to be invited to it! Thanks Do512, Goose Island, and Dinnerlab for such a great kick off to the holidays!

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Wine 101 & A Cocktail Recipe #HEBJoyville #sponsored

In accordance with the FTC Guidelines, I am disclosing that I received compensation in the form of products and a gift card from H-E-B for my time and participation in the H-E-B Virtual Progressive Dinner. Although we have material connection to H-E-B, any publicly stated opinions of H-E-B and their brands remain my own.

Welcome to Day 2 of HEB's Holiday Virtual Progressive Dinner! Today is Drinks & Wine Day, hosted by ME, Ashley! Be sure to post your favorite holiday libations on Instagram and tag @HEB and #HEBJoyvilleSweeps for your chance to win an HEB gift card!

Alright, so, keep up with me here: The recipe on this post is for a cocktail, but the information in the post is about wine. Because as talented as I may be in the bar and kitchen, I'm not quite at the level where I can help you bottle your own wine. Not yet, anyway. Got it? Okay. Cool. (Plus, why would you need to when HEB carries such a kickin' selection?)

TL; DR: Read on for a wine lesson, scroll down for a cocktail recipe.

As some of you may know, I attended a tiny artsy-fartsy college in Boston. In order to pay the exorbitant rent while I studied, I worked nearly full time at a busy Italian restaurant outside of Fenway park. One of the things they were big on was wine suggestions. During my time there I learned some quick and dirty tricks that will help you pair wine like a pro... or at least enough that your guests will THINK you're a pro ;)

Thanks for the swag, HEB!

The 5 S's
This was how we learned the proper way to taste wine. If you see any errors, forgive me (and let me know in the comments!) it's been a little while...
1. See - First step is obviously to LOOK at the wine. Notice the colors--is it a full, deep red? A light, rose color? 
2. Swirl - This technique is twofold. Gently swirl the wine and notice how the liquid slides down the inside of the glass. Fuller wines will slide slower, lighter wines will slide quicker. Swirling also aerates the wine a bit, releasing the aromatics.
3. Smell - Now that those aromas are swirling up in the glass, stick your nose in there and take a whiff. What do you smell? Fruit, oak, caramel, vanilla... see if you can pick up the different flavors before you even taste it. 
4. Sip - Take a sip and, if you're like me, resist the urge to gulp it down. Let it settle on your tongue. Are you tasting the flavors you smelled before? Roll it around a bit.
5. Savor - This may look funny, but now you need to get some air in there. Take a small breath and move the wine around as you do so--like a little kid blowing bubbles, but backwards. The flavors should be popping now.

There you go! Now you can taste wine like a pro, and impress your wine guests with a demonstration when you serve your selection of holiday wines!

And now... for pairing. We all know this simple rule: Red Meat = Red Wine. White Meat = White Wine. Right? Well... kind of. In reality, you pair wines by body, not by color. So heavier whites are going to pair with anything from chicken to veal, while lighter reds can pair with beef or chicken.

A Few Wine Pairing Tips
(I am by NO MEANS a sommelier, these are my personal rules I go by, and they might help you, too!)
  • Pair by body: heavier wine = heavier meat
  • Pair by sauce: red with red and white with white applies better to pastas. Pasta with red sauce pairs better with a red wine, same for white.
  • How do you pair smokey or spicy dishes? Lighter, sweeter wines, like a Rosé or White Zinfendel, OR look for wines that have spicy notes in them which will complement the flavors.
  • Dessert Wine: If you're drinking a sweet wine with dessert, make sure it is as sweet or sweeter than the dessert you're enjoying, or else it will make your dessert taste bitter.
  • Red with red, white with white is fine... only if you can't remember anything else.
  • Not brave enough for fancy wine? Sangria is a lovely cocktail-wine hybrid that is tasty no matter what your entree. 

Ashley tip: drink whatever wine you want! If you HATE reds or can't stand Chardonnay, the fact that someone's telling you it'll go nicer with your entree then what you really want to order isn't going to do much for you. 

And now... for the cocktail recipe!


A good rule of thumb is to offer one signature cocktail at your party, and leave a few basics out for those who just want to do a rum and coke. I typically make a big batch of sangria, but if you want a more personal, holiday-themed cocktail to make for guests, I'd go with this. I call it my Cranberry "Texan" Mule, a take on a Moscow Mule. Spicy ginger beer and tangy cranberries combine with vodka for a lovely holiday drink!

Cranberry Texan Mule
  • 1.5 oz vodka
  • .5 oz fresh lime juice
  • .5 oz cranberry simple syrup (see below)
  • 1/2 cup ginger beer
  • ice
  • lime wedge, for garnish

For the Cranberry Simple Syrup
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 cup white sugar
  • 1 cup cranberries
  • 1 tbsp orange zest
-Prepare the simple syrup: Over medium heat, mix together the water and sugar until sugar has just dissolved. Add cranberries and zest, and stir lightly. Bring heat down to low, and leave on heat for ten minutes, stirring occasionally. Pour into a jar (berries and all!) and refrigerate until cold, or overnight.

-Fill a glass with ice (if you have a copper cup, go for it!) and pour vodka, lime juice, and simple syrup over the top. Top with ginger beer, and stir gently. Serve with lime wedge, and extra cranberries for garnish.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

The Story of This Turkey - How to brine and cook a turkey!

Due to leaving my camera in Massachusetts, it's been kind of tough to pull recipes together. Thankfully I FINALLY have it back, woo! Major props to the fiancé for lending me his camera for turkey day though. It's a little older and harder for me to work with, so forgive me if the pics aren't top quality... moreso my lack of skill than his camera.

So this is from Thanksgiving, but I've been dying to share it with you. Considering tomorrow starts the HEB Virtual Progressive Dinner, I thought it'd fit in nicely to kick off the week.

If you need a reminder... Here's the Lineup for the Week:

Monday 12/8: Table Décor by Handmade Mood

Tuesday 12/9: Drinks/Wine by yours truly ;)

Wednesday 12/10: Appetizers by Confections of a Foodie Bride

Thursday 12/11: Main Course by A Zesty Bite

Friday 12/12: Desserts by The Baking Fairy

And don't forget about the Instagram Contest! Check my previous post for more details.

Now, for this turkey... I went back to Massachusetts for my mom's birthday over Thanksgiving, and the fiancé was working the actual holiday. We were a little sad at the idea of not having Thanksgiving leftovers, so I made an entire Thanksgiving dinner five days early with a few close friends.

I'd never in my life cooked a turkey before, and I was very excited to take on the process of making THE. PERFECT. TURKEY. I consulted the expert, Alton Brown, and some family know-how, and the results (as you can see) are pretty dang perfect!

Juicy, flavorful, and a good blend of new and old techniques. I even made homemade gravy to smother it with. All in all, my first turkey was a success!

Tips: Don't stuff the turkey with stuffing! Cook stuffing separately to ensure a juicy bird. Save the giblets to make THE BEST GRAVY EVER! Save the bones (and any veggie trimmings you have leftover) to make stock.

The Perfect Turkey
(Recipe based largely on Alton Brown's Good Eats)

  • 1 turkey, ~12 lbs
  • 1/2 cup salt
  • 1/2 cup dark brown sugar
  • 1 cup apple cider
  • 1 gallon stock (I used a combo of veg and chicken)
  • 1 tablespoon black peppercorns
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons allspice berries
  • 1 ginger knob, sliced
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 1 gallon of water

For Inside the Turkey

  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 1 apple, sliced in half
  • 1 onion, sliced in half
  • 1 cup water

Herbed Butter

  • 2 sticks room temp butter
  • 2 tablespoons herbs de provance
  • 1 tablespoon truffle oil

-In a large stock pot, combine the salt, brown sugar, apple cider, stock, peppercorns, allspice berries, and cinnamon stick. Heat over medium-high heat, until salt and sugar have dissolved. Bring to a boil, then take off heat and cool to room temp.

-Combine the ingredients for the herbed butter, stirring so that all ingredients are well combined, and place in fridge until ready to roast turkey.

-In a 5 gallon pot, place turkey and cover with brine and 1 gallon of cold water. Let sit in fridge overnight.

-When ready to roast, pat turkey dry and place on a roasting rack. Combine cinnamon stick, apple, onion, and 1 cup water in a microwave safe dish and microwave for 30 seconds. Drain water off, and place in the cavity of the turkey.

-Gently make cuts in the turkey's skin, and take cubes of the herbed butter and place under skin. Do this over the entire bird.

-Preheat oven to 500 degrees F. Cut a piece of tinfoil that will cover the breast of the bird. Spray lightly with cooking spray, and set aside. Roast bird for 30 minutes at this heat.

-Remove from oven and place apron over breast. Bring heat down to 350 degrees F and roast for 2 and a half hours, or until internal temperature reaches 161 degrees F.* Let rest outside the oven, covered, for 15 minutes before carving.

*Alton suggests a fancy-pants thermometer-alarm here, but I don't have that. So I just checked periodically with a regular meat thermometer.