Butterscotch Pots de Creme

There is a restaurant in Dallas, Neightborhood Services, that has a butterscotch pot de creme on the dessert menu.  The first time I had it I had to close my eyes it was so delicious.  I might have come close to falling out of my chair.  They serve it in little glass jars with those flat wooden spoons.  The presentation adds to the amazingness of it, as does eating off of those cute wooden spoons!  Since then I’ve said I was going to make them myself.  Well I’ve finally done it, and the results were incredible.  Not quite Neighborhood Srevices incredible, but I think sometimes recreating a restaurant dish is next to impossible since the atmosphere isn’t the same.  But I’m getting off the point.  These are truly amazing and wonderful and you should make them.  You’ll make friends for life with whoever you share them with.


These creamy, decadent, sweet and just slightly salty desserts would make a great end to a dinner party since this recipe makes enough to fill 12 4-ounce ramekins.  If you’re not looking to make a dozen of these, then just cut the ingredients in half and use larger, 6-ounce ramekins or the smaller size and have a few leftover.  I’ve enjoyed a few of these now over the last couple of days after storing them covered in the fridge and every time they’re just as delicious.


Pot de creme sounds fancy, but it’s just a baked custard, literally “pot (or jar) of cream” in French.  Say something in French and it automatically becomes fancy!  And pot de creme is not hard to make.  You can easily make these as long as you have the right tools and follow the directions.  There are only a couple tools you may not have in your kitchen that you need.

  • Oven safe ramekins, either 4 or 6-ounce.  I have these and love them, but they are on the smaller side.  Might invest in some larger ones at some point, like these simple ones.  Or someday a set of these.
  • A fine mesh strainer, like this one.  Make sure to get one with a lip on the opposite side of the handle so it will hang on your bowl while you pour in the custard.

Since they require at least 4 hours of chilling you can even make them ahead of time (earlier in the day or the day before) making pulling off a dinner and impressive dessert much easier.  I’ve tried before to make a nice dinner and dessert, and doing them too close together found me almost too tired to enjoy it all, and I’m pretty sure we ate both dinner and dessert much later than I’d planned.  And my kitchen was a disaster.  Getting dessert done early makes your life much easier.

The only problem I ran into was the difference in these two custards.


You can see the one on the left is smooth and beautiful.  The one on the right is a little textured on top and if I’d spooned out a bit you’d see it had formed a small amount of skin.  But still tasted amazing!  And if you cover the tops in whipped cream you don’t have to worry about it, but it bothered me still.  I can identify a couple of things that could have caused the difference.

  1. Letting the custard mixture sit before baking.  Since I had 12 custards to bake I had to do them in two batches.  The smooth and beautiful ones were the ones I baked second.  Maybe the weird tops were caused by bubbles in the mixture?  Maybe giving the mixture time to settle is a necessary step?  Not sure, but I think it’s a good guess.
  2. Covering the pan with foil while baking.  I baked them all in a water bath, and I covered each pan with foil, but the second batch I covered more tightly with the foil.  So maybe the steam trapped in the pan caused them to cook more evenly?  I’m leaning more toward this one.

If you make these and discover the answer or if you’re an expert on the subject, please let me know!  For the time being I might let my custard sit for a while before baking AND cover tightly with foil just to be safe.


The caramel sauce is lovely, both visually and for taste.  But you don’t need it.  If you do choose to make it, let it cool completely as it is very runny right after it’s made, which makes me think 2/3 of a cup of water is too much.  Even after a night in the fridge it’s still not thick.  I drizzled the sauce on top of the cream, but you could pour a little caramel onto the custard itself and then top with cream.  It would be a nice surprise when you dip your spoon down for the first bite.


I apologize for the length of this recipe.  Once I started adding in little tips and more detailed instructions it got LONG.  If you feel comfortable with custard making, caramel making and all of that go to the linked recipe for a more condensed and succinct recipe.  Stay here for overly detailed instructions : )  Enjoy!

Butterscotch Pots de Creme

From Food and Wine

Makes 12 4-ounce or 8 6-ounce custards


For the Pots de Creme

  • 1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter
  • 1 cup dark brown sugar
  • 5 cups heavy cream
  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 6 large egg yolks
  • Boiling water (I just heat a teapot on the stove so it’s ready to go)

For the Caramel Sauce

  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 2 tablespoons + 2/3 cup water

For Sweetened Whipped Cream

  • 1 pint of heavy cream
  • 2-4 teaspoons powdered sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla or almond extract


  1. Pots de Creme: Preheat the oven to 325°F.
  2. In a large saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat. Add the brown sugar and cook over medium high heat while whisking constantly until mixture is smooth, thickened slightly and bubbling, about 5 minutes.
  3. Whisk in the cream in a slow, steady stream, the mixture will bubble and steam. Return the mixture to a boil, whisking constantly, then remove from the heat and stir in the salt.
  4. Whisk the egg yolks in a large heatproof bowl.  Whisk in the hot cream mixture, a little at a time until you’ve added about 2 cups, then whisk in the remaining mixture in a slow steady stream.
  5. Strain the custard through the fine mesh strainer into another large bowl.
  6. Fill your ramekins with the custard.  Place the ramekins in a roasting pan or a 9×13 baking pan.  Place the pan in the oven, then fill the pan with boiling water until it reaches about halfway up the sides of the ramekins (being careful not to get any water in the custards) then cover the pan with foil.  You may need to bake one batch at a time if you’re baking 12, and that’s just fine.
  7. Bake for 1 hour (45-50 minutes for smaller ramekins), until the custards are set but still wobbly in the center.  Remove ramekins from the water bath, place on a wire rack, then place the rack in the fridge and let custards chill for at least 4 hours.  If you’re going to make these the day before, cover each with foil after the 4 hours.
  8. Caramel Sauce: In a medium saucepan, mix the sugar with 2 tablespoons of water and cook over high heat without stirring, until a deep amber caramel forms, about 6 minutes.  Take a pastry brush and wash the sides of the pan with water a couple times during cooking to keep crystals from forming.
  9. Remove from the heat and add 2/3 cup of water (sugar will violently bubble and steam so be careful) and stir until smooth.
  10. Let the caramel cool, then stir in the vanilla.
  11. Whipped Cream: Beat cream on high in a large bowl (stand mixer with whisk attachment or hand mixer) until it just starts to thicken.  Add in the powdered sugar and extract and continue to beat until cream holds peaks well.  Do not overbeat or you’ll make butter.  If the cream starts to look like it’s curdling stop and fold it by hand to smooth it out.
  12. Top the pots de creme with whipped cream and caramel sauce right before serving.  The caramel sinks into the whipped cream and doesn’t look as beautiful after sitting for a while.  You can top each with whipped cream a few hours before and then drizzle with sauce right before serving.  Or let guests top their own with cream and caramel.

Flourless Triple Chocolate Cookies

Valentine’s Day is fast approaching and while it’s not my favorite holiday, it is a perfect excuse to make and enjoy loads of sweet treats.  It’s also a good excuse to enjoy an especially  nice meal with your sweetheart, either at home or out.  Candles and roses required of course.


In anticipation of Valentine’s Day I’ve decided to spend the next couple of weeks baking and sharing some delicious Valentine’s Day goodies.  By the time it rolls around my husband is probably going to be sick of chocolate, but that’s ok.  I’ll pick up the slack.  I have this amazing ability to endure baked goods and sugar beyond what is considered normal.  What can I say, it’s a gift!


These are not your typical chocolate cookie since they’re flourless (gluten free!) and end up being very crunchy on the outside with just a little bit of gooey middle.  Whole Foods makes a similar cookie that has walnuts which I kind of love.  You could easily adds nuts into this cookie if you’d like.  The pure chocolately goodness of them without nuts is wonderful, though.  The cocoa powder, semi sweet and milk chocolate chips makes these triple chocolate, but you could opt for just one kind of chip, or go crazy and add in dark chocolate chunks as well.


This cookie batter/dough comes together in no time and while you can use a stand mixer, you don’t need one.  The ingredients are simple and you likely have them all in your kitchen right now.  You definitely need to bake these cookies on parchment paper or a nonstick silicon mat.  They stick a little, even to the parchment, so use a stiff spatula (or a small offset one) to get underneath the cookies as you’re taking them off the sheet.  This way you won’t lose any chocolate pieces.  That would be a tragedy.

Watch out for little hands.  They’ll swoop down when you least expect it and steal these.  I let her eat the whole thing by the way.  Right before dinner.  Great parenting over here.


Flourless Triple Chocolate Cookies

From Food 52

Makes 24-30 cookies


  • 2 1/2 cups powdered sugar
  • 1/2 cup good cocoa
  • 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 3 egg whites
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 1/4 cup semisweet chocolate chunks or chips
  • 1 1/4 cup milk chocolate chunks or chips
  • 1/2-1 cup nuts, toasted and chopped, optional
  • Sea salt flakes, optional


  1. Preheat oven to 350°F.
  2. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment (you’ll need more parchment for each batch).
  3. Whisk together powdered sugar, cocoa powder, cinnamon and salt.
  4. Beat in the egg whites until well combined, then mix in vanilla.
  5. Fold in chocolate chips/chunks and nuts if desired.
  6. Spoon batter, 2 rounded teaspoons per cookie, onto your cookie sheets, spacing about 2 inches apart for spreading.  I found I could fit 6-8 cookies per sheet without any problems.  Sprinkle each cookie with salt if desired.
  7. Bake for 12-14 minutes until cookies look just set and dry on top with some cracking.  Let cool on the pan for a few minutes before removing to a cooling rack.





Daring Bakers: Baumkuchen

The January 2014 Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Francijn of “Koken in de Brouwerij”. She challenged us all to bake layered cakes in the tradition of Baumkuchen (tree cake) and Schichttorte (layered cake).


The last Daring Bakers I participated in was in January of 2012.  That’s right.  2 years ago.  In January of 2012 we had just moved in to our rent house in Houston and not too long after I discovered I was pregnant with Betsy.  With a move and a new baby that year I was kept pretty busy.  By that time I was out of the habit and blogging wasn’t a priority, so 2013 came and went without any Daring Bakers challenges.  But with my resolution to blog more came a desire to get back into it.  I’d forgotten how many things I’d made that I’d never have made otherwise.  Thanks, Daring Bakers.  This is a fun group to be a part of and I’m glad to be back.  Hoping to continue participating this year without interruption…with the exception of the month of June.  And maybe July.  We’ll see how it goes.

Tree cake, or baumkuchen, is something I’d never heard of or seen before taking a look at the January challenge.  And to be honest, I might not have made it even if I had seen it somewhere.  The process of making the cake is time intensive, baking the cake in 10-12 layers, and the cake batter is more involved than cakes I’ve been making recently.  Separating eggs and beating egg whites to stiff peaks and folding them in is something my lazy self has not had the desire to do.  But it was a lot of fun and I actually enjoyed the entire process and the final result.


One of the only problems I encountered is that I didn’t do a great job of estimating how thick to spread my layers in order to end up with 10-12 total.  My first layer was too thick, then the next 6 or so were too thin, and by that time I had so much batter left over that my final cake was probably 16 layers total and had baked for at least 12 extra minutes.  This made the bottom of the cake (the first layer I made) pretty dark.  I’m afraid this also made the cake just a tad dry.   I also chose not to glaze the cake with jam before glazing it with chocolate.  That would’ve likely added some moisture.  BUT the flavor of the cake is really amazing.  The almond flavor is present but subtle.  I ate all the edges I trimmed off just plain and they were terrific.  It’s a really dense and sturdy cake.  Great to enjoy with a cup of coffee or tea.

I used a recipe for my baumkuchen from Allrecipes that is very similar to the one Francijn provided but has cornstarch in the batter.  The cooking method I used was Francijn’s, baking each layer for 3-4 minutes at 450°F.  I glazed the cake with dark chocolate melted with a little vegetable oil and it came out beautifully and was a nice contrast to the sweet cake.

Here’s a little step by step.


Batter and prepared pan


Cake: baked and trimmed





More Glazing

This challenge was a fun one and was definitely out of my current baking comfort zone.  A perfect Daring Bakers challenge.  Thanks, Francijn!


From allrecipes.com and Francijn


  • 14 tablespoons (2 sticks minus 2 tablespoons) unsalted butter, softened
  • 5 1/2 ounces almond paste
  • 1 cup sifted confectioners’ sugar
  • 7/8 cup cornstarch
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 pinch salt
  • 2 egg yolks
  • 6 egg whites
  • 3/4 cup white sugar
  • 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 8 ounces of good dark or semisweet chocolate
  • 2 teaspoons vegetable oil


  1.  Preheat oven to 450°F.
  2. Grease an 8×8 pan then line with parchment paper.  I used two sheets cut to the width of the pan and crossed them.  Trim excess overhang on all sides.  Grease the paper and set pan aside.
  3. Cream the butter until light and fluffy.  Add in the almond paste in chunks and beat until well combined.  You may see small chunks of paste, but no large chunks.  Scrape the bowl down.
  4. Add in powdered sugar, cornstarch, salt and vanilla and beat well.  Beats in the yolks, one at a time, until batter is smooth.
  5. In another bowl beat eggs whites until soft peaks form.  Slowly add in the granulated sugar and continue to beat on high speed until stiff peaks form.
  6. Fold whites gently into the batter, then sift flour on top and fold it in as well just until everything is evenly distributed.
  7. Spread some batter, enough to lightly cover the pan, onto the bottom of the prepared pan, being careful not to get batter on the sides of the pan (this batter burns and can then drop onto your cake and be baked in).  Bake for 3-4 minutes, until layer is lightly browned.  Continue spreading and baking layers until the batter is gone.  Aim for 10-12 layers total.
  8. Let cake cool for 5 minutes, then remove from the pan and let cool completely.  Trim the edges off (and save them for snacking!).
  9. Melt the chocolate and oil in a double boiler (or in a small saucepan over very low heat being extra careful not to burn it) until smooth and melted.
  10. Spread the chocolate onto the top and sides of the cake.  Let harden (I did this overnight) then flip cake over onto a sheet of parchment and spread chocolate onto the other side of the cake.  Note: You don’t have to glaze the bottom/other side with chocolate.  I covered the cake and chocolate overnight, remelted the chocolate the next day and glazed the other side.  Don’t try to glaze the bottom before the other chocolate is nice and set.
  11. Slice and serve.

Quick and Easy Cuban Paninis

As the new week approaches I start thinking about our week of meals, as I’m sure some of you do too.  I don’t typically plan well, often having to make 2 or 3 trips to the grocery store between Sunday and Friday.  If I want to make one trip on Sunday or Monday it helps me to plan out our meals and how I’m going to use leftovers.

Every couple of weeks I make a pork tenderloin (99% of the time it’s the pre-marinated kind from HEB, the Italian herb flavor) and we eat it with rice or potatoes and vegetables or salad.  It’s a really simple dinner and one that doesn’t involve a whole lot of work.  But since there are only 2 of us eating we always have leftovers.  While slicing the extra pork and piling it onto a salad is a great and delicious way to use it, sometimes I want something hot and melty, especially when it’s cold out.  That’s where these super easy Cuban panini sandwiches come in. cubanpanini2 Cuban sandwiches typically contain pork, ham, swiss cheese, mustard and dill pickles.  And that, along with some bread, is all you need for these paninis.  I used ciabatta rolls, but French bread is probably closer to true Cuban bread.  I love the flavor combinations in this sandwich and especially love the pickles.  They’re so wonderful warm, and the pickle juice gets down into the whole sandwich.  I do like pickles.  cubanpanini1 If it’s been a long day this is a super fast dinner and you don’t have to do any cooking if you’re using leftover pork.  Sometimes I make a salad to round out the meal, and sometimes I just put a bag of chips on the table, eat a few baby carrots, count pickles as vegetables and call it good.  Use a panini press if you have one.  If not, just treat this like a grilled cheese.  Press the sandwich down firmly with another pan while it’s cooking to press everything together.

The recipe below is for 2 sandwiches.  Just double or triple the ingredients to make the number you need.  I did not measure the amount of pork I used, but it was close to 1/4 of a whole tenderloin, about 4 thin slices per sandwich.  I opted for the higher amount of cheese and pickles in my sandwiches.  I also mixed up both yellow and dijon mustard, in equal parts, to spread on the bread.  Use what you like.  I do suggest cheese on both sides of the sandwich to keep things together.  Do you have any quick and easy dinners or delicious ways to transform your leftovers?

Cuban Paninis

Makes 2 sandwiches


  • 2 ciabatta rolls, other sandwich sized rolls or sliced french bread
  • pork, roasted and sliced, about 4 slices per sandwich
  • 2-4 slices of swiss cheese
  • 2-4 slices of ham
  • 4-6 dill pickle slices
  • mustard (regular yellow, dijon, or a half and half mix)
  • olive oil


  1. Heat panini press or large skillet over medium heat (or medium low if your burners run hot like mine).
  2. Spread some mustard on either one or both sides of the roll.
  3. On the bottom slice of bread layer 1 slice of cheese, a few slices of pork, 1-2 slices of ham, your desired number of pickles, a little more cheese and top with the other piece of bread.
  4. Brush or drizzle a little olive oil on both sides of the bread then place on the panini press or in the skillet.
  5. Press down firmly with the press or with a heavy skillet.  You’ll need to flip the sandwich if you’re doing it in a skillet, after 3 minutes or so depending on how hot your pan is, and repeat on the other side.  The panini press should let you know either by beeping or changing light from red to green, that it’s done.  Sometimes I let mine cook a little longer.  What you want is for the ingredients to be warmed, the cheese melted and the bread to be golden brown.  Slice sandwiches in half and serve.

Meatballs with Zucchini and Carrot

My kids, ages 3 and 16 months, aren’t very good at eating their vegetables.  Fruit, cheese, bread, french fries, ice cream, cookies, chocolate?  No problem.  But vegetables are another story.  Carson will eat a baby carrot from time to time, and Betsy will eat a few green peas if I mix them up in her macaroni.  But that’s as good as it gets around here.  So in an effort to get them to eat more vegetables I decided to hide them in meatballs.  Both of my kids are pretty good at eating meatballs, so I figured this was a genius plan.


The first night I gave them the meatballs plain without sauce, and they weren’t the biggest fans.  And I felt like a failure.  I went to all that trouble and they didn’t want them!?  But the next night I heated them in some pasta sauce and we had much better results.  My kids ate vegetables!  Without gagging!

These meatballs are simple and geared towards a picky kid’s palate.  Not a lot of spice or heat.  If your kids are more daring than mine (or if you’ve done a better job of exposing them to spices!) add what you like to the mix.  You could also use half beef and half Italian sausage for a more interesting meatball.  I used jarred sauce, but if you have a great recipe, then use it…and then share it with me!  Do you have any great meals that are healthy and delicious that your kids enjoy?  I’d love to hear them.  We need all the help we can get!


Meatballs with Zucchini and Carrots

Makes 24-30 meatballs


  • 1 pound ground beef (85/15)
  • 3/4 cup dried breadcrumbs
  • 3 tablespoons milk
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 1/2 cup shredded carrot
  • 1/2 cup shredded zucchini (pressed between paper towels to remove excess moisture)
  • 1/4 cup grated onion
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
  • Pasta sauce


  1. Preheat oven to 350°F.
  2. Combine breadcrumbs and milk in a large bowl and let soak for a couple minutes.  Add in beef, egg, vegetables and seasonings and mix (clean hands are a great tool here) until combined.
  3. Form into balls (around golf ball size) and place in a greased pan.
  4. Bake for 30 minutes.  You can pour on some sauce in the last 10 minutes of baking or heat the sauce separately.

Bacon and Caramelized Shallot Baked White Cheddar and Gruyere Macaroni and Cheese

If you know me or have searched around on the blog much, then it comes as no surprise that I love macaroni and cheese.  I’ve made it more than a couple of times and have tried lots of variations.  But I have two basic recipes that are my favorites, this one from Martha and this one from The Pioneer Woman.  Both are great jumping off points for creating different types of meals based on what you choose  to add in.  They are similar, creamy baked pasta dishes but Ree’s uses an egg, less milk and cheese, Martha doesn’t use an egg but uses twice as much milk and more cheese.  They have similar cooking processes and both yield tremendously tasty results.  Pioneer Woman doesn’t call for bread crumbs, but if I have them around I almost always use them.  There is just something about a crunchy topping on a creamy pasta dish that does me in.  Heaven.


For this macaroni and cheese I used the Martha recipe as my base and added in cooked crumbled bacon, caramelized shallots and fresh thyme.  I made 4 of these individual servings and had plenty left over to fill a 9×13 casserole.  If you don’t make any little servings it will still all fit in a 9×13.  I sometimes make two smaller casseroles and freeze one for a day when I know I won’t have time to make dinner.  If you do freeze it don’t go through with the baking step prior to freezing.  Wrap your pan in plastic wrap then foil.  Let it thaw in the fridge overnight then bake (with foil only!) for 20 minutes, then uncovered for another 20-30 depending on the size of the pan.  This macaroni can be served as a main course, which is what I usually do, paired with a green salad.  Or it can be a side dish and is a great addition to a pot luck table.

The thought of making a roux is one that may seem daunting if you haven’t done it before.  It does sound like a fancy cooking skill, but it’s really simple and kind of wonderful.  I love the way the butter and flour smell together as they’re cooking.  This whisk from Pampered Chef is the one I always use when making a roux or sauce.  It doesn’t scratch my pan and can get up next to the edges of the pan like a normal whisk cannot.  It’s also great at breaking up lumps.  But it’s a pain to clean, so soak it right after you’re done with it to avoid stress at dish washing time.  In addition to a good whisk, you also need a nice big saucepan and uninterrupted time.  You can’t go browse Pinterest or finish that episode of whatever you were watching while you make the roux and cheese sauce.  Do that while the macaroni is in the oven.  If you don’t whisk it fairly constantly you run the risk of getting a lumpy sauce or even burning it and having to start over.  It doesn’t take a terribly long time, but it is active time. The first step of cooking the butter and flour happens especially fast.  So just be attentive.


The cheese.  It’s an important factor in macaroni and cheese, of course.  You can tell if you use really good cheese.  But your macaroni won’t be at all bad if you use normal grocery store cheese.  I used Target brand sharp white cheddar and a nice little block of real gruyere.  Use whatever you want, cheddar, colby, sharp, mild, etc.  But don’t use low fat cheese.  That’s just plain silly.  And remember that changing cheeses changes the final product, so mix cheeses and additions that pair well.

The milk.  2% is just fine.  You can use whole if you’re really going to go for it, but it’s not necessary to achieve a nice creamy sauce.  Do not forget the salt!  If the sauce tastes a little too salty, that’s ok because you’re mixing it with a pound of non flavorful pasta.

The pasta.  I like penne, a little more adult of a pasta than elbow, but elbow is just fine.  You can use fussili or farfalle (bowtie) but I personally like the tubular pasta noodles for macaroni and cheese.

The bacon.  I used center cut, baked it in the oven then chopped it up.  I used 6 slices (sorry I don’t have the ounce amount!) but could’ve easily done 8 and maybe even 10.  Leave the bacon out if you’re looking for a meatless dish, or substitute ham or another meat.

The shallots.  I love shallots.  They’re sweeter than onions are are a wonderful addition to this dish.  I used 3 large shallots, sliced them thinly and sauteed them in a little butter and olive oil over medium-low heat until they were nice and evenly browned without burning.  If they begin to darken too much, add a tablespoon of water to the hot pan and continue cooking.  You can use a yellow onion, the flavor will just be slightly different but still delicious.

This creamy, cheesy and delicious baked pasta dish is real comfort food and something that is sure to please just about everyone.  Enjoy!

Bacon and Caramelized Shallot Macaroni and Cheese

Adapted from Martha Stewart

Serves 6-8 as a main dish or 10-12 as a side dish


  • 6-8 slices of center cut bacon, cooked and chopped or crumbled
  • 3 large shallots, peeled and sliced thinly
  • 8 tablespoons butter, divided, + 1/2 tablespoon to saute the shallots
  • 1/2 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 pound penne pasta
  • 1/2 cup flour
  • 5 and 1/2 cups milk
  • kosher salt
  • black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves
  • 16 ounces sharp cheddar, grated (1 cup reserved for topping)
  • 6 ounces gruyere cheese, grated (1/2 cup reserved for topping)
  • 1 and 1/2 cups panko crumbs


  1. Preheat oven to  375°F.
  2. Caramelize the shallots: Heat 1/2 tablespoon of butter and 1/2 tablespoon of olive oil in a small pan over medium heat, add shallots, stir and cook for a couple minutes until shallots start to gain some color and soften slightly.  Reduce heat to medium-low and cook, stirring occasionally, until shallots are caramel in color and very soft.  Do not let them burn.  If they are browning too quickly you can lower the heat slightly or add a tablespoon of water and continue to cook.  This should take 10 minutes or so.  Set shallots aside.
  3. Heat a large pot of water to cook the penne.  While it is coming to a boil, make the cheese sauce.  Heat 6 tablespoons of butter in a large pan over medium heat, once it is melted add the flour and whisk for a minute.  Slowly pour in about 1 cup of the milk and whisk until mixture thickens, being sure to whisk out any lumps.  Continue adding the milk, a cup at a time, whisking until slightly thickened until the last addition of milk (this can be 1 1/2 cups).  Whisk until slightly thickened.
  4. Remove from the heat and add in salt (at least 1 teaspoon) pepper to taste, thyme, and all the cheese except that reserved for topping.  Stir to combine and melt the cheese until mixture is smooth.  Taste and season.
  5. Salt boiling water and add the pasta.  Cook 2 minutes fewer than the package instructs, then drain and add to the cheese sauce along with the shallots and bacon.  Stir well to combine everything.  NOTE: You may reserve some of the shallots to sprinkle on top, 2 tablespoon is enough.
  6. Grease ramekins or casserole dish and spoon pasta into the dishes. Top with reserved cheese, then shallots.
  7. Melt the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter and toss with the panko crumbs.  Spread crumbs evenly over the cheese and bake for 30 minutes.  Ramekins can bake for about 20, make sure to place them on a baking sheet to catch drips.
  8. Let cool for a few minutes before serving.


Basic Buttermilk Waffles

When I searched for a waffle recipe on Pinterest an abundance of things popped up, but most were flavored in some way, fancified to make them stand out and beg for a repin or a like.  Salted caramel waffles, bacon waffles (which actually sound wonderful to me) pumpkin waffles, bacon and cheddar waffles, cinnamon roll waffles, gingerbread waffles and some others.  Is no one satisfied with a simple basic waffle?  That’s all I wanted.  So I searched somewhere else.  Somewhere unaffected by current food trends and the hope for a repin or a retweet or a re-something or other.  A cookbook that was given to me by my mother called Rice Farmers Kitchen 2, printed in 1996, that includes recipes from my grandmother, my aunts, my mom and some other relatives and friends of relatives from Richvale, a small rice farming town in Northern California where my mom grew up.  I enjoy cookbooks like this where the name of the recipe submitter is included and, in this case, it’s extra special to know some of those people.


This is a really basic waffle recipe and one I will go to in the future on mornings that I feel making something special for breakfast that doesn’t take a lot of time.  I had the batter mixed up and the first set of waffles cooking in 10 minutes.  These waffles have good flavor and a nice crisp exterior that makes it hard not to tear a piece to taste after you take them off the iron.  I’d forgotten how much I loved waffles!  I’ll take them over pancakes any day.

I made some plain, a few with mini chocolate chips, just sprinkled them on top of the batter before I shut the top, and tried one with dollops of peach jam…it didn’t work out very well.  A big burnt mess.  I’d imagined it turning out better than that.  Oh well!

Top these with whatever your heart desires.  After cooking would’ve been a better time for jam!  The kids ate them plain, a little syrup for Carson.  I like mine with butter, berries, and a little powdered sugar.  If you’re really feeling ambitious, fresh sweetened whipped cream and berries makes for a super wonderful and amazing breakfast…or dessert…or afternoon snack.


I used a classic round waffle iron, this one to be exact.  It hasn’t gotten a lot of use in it’s 7.5 years in my possession (it was a wedding gift) but I see myself using it more often now since it really isn’t much more trouble than pancakes.  Mine cleaned up easily since I used nonstick spray for each waffle.  I also used the wet paper towel trick, which I use on the panini press, after I was done.  So other than the effort to take it out of the cupboard, there isn’t much extra work involved.  I do lust after a Belgian waffle maker, but I wonder if it makes a whole lot of sense to own both.  I might have to open a weekend brunch spot in order to justify it.  Thoughts?

A special thanks to Betsy who helped me with the waffle photo shoot.  I let her have some after I was done photographing.  How could anyone say no to this face?!  She was way into the whipped cream.  Definitely my daughter.  Enjoy!


Basic Buttermilk Waffles

From The Rice Farmers Cookbook


  • 1 3/4 cup flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil
  • 1 1/2 cups buttermilk
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • Butter, syrup, berries, chocolate chips, powdered sugar, cinnamon sugar, etc. for topping


  1. Heat waffle iron.
  2. Whisk dry ingredients together in a large bowl.
  3. Beat wet ingredients together in a bowl until well combined.
  4. Pour the wet ingredients into the dry and mix just until combined and all the flour is moistened, be sure to scrape the bottom of your bowl.
  5. Spray waffle iron with nonstick spray, then pour about 1/2 cup of batter into the center of the plate.  It should cover about 2/3 of the surface.  This depends on the size of your waffle iron, err on the side of too little the first time to test the waters.  Too much batter and you have a big mess.
  6. Close waffle iron and cook according to manufacturers instructions.  Serve immediately.  Can be reheated in a toaster or toaster oven.

Coca Cola Hoisin Pork Chops with Baby Bok Choy

When I read a tip that came out of America’s Test Kitchen I immediately believe it and put it to use.  When I read a recipe from America’s Test Kitchen I believe it must be amazing and have the best methods of cooking whatever it is.  I’d like to get a job there.  Or at least spend a day or two there, just observing the amount of thought, effort, time and testing that goes into everything.  It makes me kind of excited to think about it all!

They do what I only wish I had the time, money, energy and intelligence to.  Want to know the best kind of cookie sheet to buy?  Ask the test kitchen.  They’ve already put all the brands out there through a battery of tests and know which gives the best browning and texture while not warping in the oven and doesn’t cost a fortune.  Want to know the best kind of cocoa powder?  Ask the test kitchen.  They’ve already tasted and baked with them all.  You won’t have to make a bad batch of chocolate cookies that burned on your poor quality cookie sheets!  Now some people don’t like the specificity and scientific bent in their articles and think that maybe they’re too engrossed in the food or the recipe to consider the home cook.  Like who has time to check the temperature of their butter before they use it in the perfect pound cake?  I’ve made that pound cake, and I took its temperature and it was spectacular.  But does it make that much of a difference?  If the test kitchen says so, then it must.

The only reason I bring it up is that this recipe came from a cookbook from The Test Kitchen called The Six-Ingredient Solution.  What a genius idea!  I love when a recipe is uncomplicated in its ingredients.  It makes grocery shopping and life just a little bit easier.  But I guess this actually has 8 including pepper and water called for in the directions…still 8 ingredients ain’t bad.  And they turn out a stellar dinner.

photo 1 (30)

I don’t cook pork chops.  I’ll often cook a pork tenderloin in the oven or Ben will grill one.  I worry about under-cooking pork, and so in an effort to not under-cook it I end up worrying about over-cooking it and making it dry and tough.  I am happy to say that this meal yielded really delicious pork chops that were cooked pretty well.  I got the thumbs-up from Ben on it!  But I did have trouble getting it to temperature during the searing.  I did 3 minutes per side and it was only at 120°F.  Once it got to 130 I took it off and let it cook the rest of the way in the sauce, which worked well.  It’s not the way they instruct in the original recipe, but it worked for me.

I’ve never cooked bok choy before, and I think I’ve only had it once or twice.  So this was a step out of my comfort zone in more than one way.  It cooks quickly and has good amounts of vitamins A and C.  I really enjoyed it and found it to be a perfect side for this meal.  Some people may not be a fan of the texture.  Sub broccoli for the bok choy if you’d like.  Steam it and serve it on the side.

I HAVE cooked rice before.  Lots of rice.  So it was the only part of the meal I was able to put on the stove and know was going to be edible.  And, to be honest, I kind of liked the thought of a big bowl of buttered rice for dinner.  But what we had was much better and more well balanced.

The sauce is amazing, and how could it not be?  It’s delicious on the pork, bok choy and rice.  I think it would be a great sauce for chicken as well.  The sauce ingredients here are what they call for for 4 chops and 4 bok choy, so if you do decide to make this recipe for 4, I’d suggest doubling the sauce.  You might end up with extra, but it would be a shame to run out!  Enjoy!

Coca Cola Hoisin Pork Chops with Baby Bok Choy

From America’s Test Kitchen

Serves 2


  • 1 3/4 cups sushi (short grain) rice
  • 2 thick cut bone-in pork chops (8 ounces, 3/4 inch thick)
  • 2 heads baby bok choy
  • 1 cup coca cola
  • 1/3 cup hoisin sauce
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • black pepper


  1. Halve bok choy lengthwise and set aside.
  2. Pat pork chops dry with paper towels, then cut 2 small slits through the fat on the side of each pork chop.  Season both sides with ground black pepper and set aside.
  3. Whisk cola, hoisin and 2 tablespoons of water in a bowl and set aside.
  4. Combine rice with 2 1/4 cups of water and a pinch of salt in a medium sized saucepan.  Bring to a boil then cover and reduce heat to low.  Simmer for 10 minutes then remove from the heat and let sit, covered, for 15 minutes.
  5. While rice is cooking, heat 1 tablespoon of oil in a large skillet over high heat.  Add bok choy, cut side down.  Watch out for oil spatters!  Cook for 1 to 2 minutes, then add 2 tablespoons of water, cover and cook for another minute until stems are just tender.  Transfer to a plate and cover.
  6. Wipe out the skillet with paper towels and adjust heat to medium high.  Heat 1 tablespoon oil in the skillet, then add pork chops and cook 3-5 minutes per side, until the temperature is 130-135, then move to a plate.
  7. Wipe out skillet again, keep heat at medium high and add the cola mixture.  Whisk until slightly thickened then add chops and any juice on the plate back to the pan.  Turn the chops to coat them with the sauce, then cover and cook for 2-3 minutes.  Check temperature of the chops, they should register 145°F.
  8. Plate chops, bok choy (pretty browned sides up) and rice.  Drizzle bok choy with sauce from the pan.  Serve with extra sauce.

Cranberry Coconut Muffins


Happy Friday!  Just have to point out that this is my 3rd post of the week!  I don’t anticipate every week being this productive, but I am glad to start the year off tackling some of my blogging goals.  Now for a yummy, fast and simple recipe for your weekend…crancoconutmuffin2

With half a bag of cranberries still in my fridge, and some ideas brewing for what to do to this muffin recipe, I whipped these up during nap time.  Using pineapple juice in the last muffins led me to the thought of coconut and I just so happened to have both coconut oil and coconut milk in my pantry.  Just like last time I wished I’d had a can of crushed pineapple to add in.  Maybe I’ll get around to making a tropical cranberry muffin one of these days.  But that would involve me buying another bag of cranberries and then having leftovers after making the muffins which would then require me to make something else with cranberries.  I might have to put it on hold until next holiday season.  I might be muffin-ed out.


I’ve sung the praises of coconut oil before.  This zucchini bread is one of my favorite things.  Coconut oil behaves pretty much the same as oil and butter in a baked good.  But it’s rock hard at temps at which vegetable oil is liquid and butter is spreadable.  It remains solid until is reaches temperatures above 76°F.  I warmed it in the microwave before using it in this recipe.  I keep muffins and breads in the fridge unless I know they’re going to be eaten within a couple of days to keep them from going bad.  With the coconut oil in the muffins they come out of the fridge very hard.  A quick warm up in the microwave and they become nice and soft and ready to devour.  I found some great information on this blog about using coconut oil and its health benefits.  I’d never thought about cutting in to pastry dough!

Coconut is a main and noticeable ingredient in these muffins.  There’s coconut oil, milk and flakes.  So the coconut averse may not be into these.  If you do want the benefits of the coconut oil, just sub milk or buttermilk and leave out the coconut flakes.  The coconut oil alone shouldn’t make a coconut hater turn up their nose, but I don’t find coconut oil alone to be too coconutty, especially after being baked into something.  Correct me if I am wrong!

On another note, I got this wonderful spreader for Christmas from my mother-in-law.  “No such things as too much butter” is definitely something I find to be true.  You can get your own at For Such a Time Designs on Etsy.  She hand stamps pieces of flatware and I’ve been perusing her site quite a bit lately.  Check her out!


Coconut Cranberry Muffins


  • 1 1/2 cups flour
  • 3 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup coconut oil, warmed to liquid
  • 3/4 cup lite coconut milk, shake the can before opening and measuring
  • 1 egg
  • 1 cup fresh cranberries, roughly chopped
  • 1/2 cup sweetened flaked coconut


  1. Preheat oven to 400°F.
  2. Grease and sugar a 12-cup muffin tin.
  3. Combine flour, powder and salt in a small bowl and set aside.
  4. Beat sugar and coconut oil until combined, then beat in coconut milk and egg.
  5. Add flour mixture to the liquid ingredients and mix just to combine.
  6. Fold in the cranberries and flaked coconut.
  7. Divide batter equally among the cups.  Sprinkle with raw sugar or flaked coconut.
  8. Bake for 15-20 minutes until a toothpick comes out clean.  Let cool for a few minutes in the pan before transferring to a rack to cool completely.

Thin and Chewy Chocolate Chip and Toffee Cookies



In general I prefer a thick, soft and chewy chocolate chip cookie.  The flat crunchy kind aren’t what I typically make or choose to enjoy with a glass of milk.   I’ve made my fair share of chocolate chip cookies and have some favorite recipes.  These, these and these are probably the ones I’ve enjoyed the most.  Going back in the blog archives makes me nostalgic and a little embarrassed of my food photos and writing.  Yeesh.  But, this is why I blog!  Documenting the good and the not so good, and seeing how my cooking, blogging and photography has changed.  Anyway, back to the cookies.


I made these cookies for a friend who recently moved into a new house.  I kept a few for myself.  They are thin, but still chewy, which I realize now is what I really crave in a cookie.  And they are buttery and sweet and delicious.  The small amount of toffee pieces adds something special to these.  The original recipe, from The Magnolia Bakery Cookbook, calls for mini chocolate chips.  I used regular sized chips and think that it’s really a personal preference.  With mini chips you’ll get chocolate in each bite.  With the big chips you’ll end up with some bites with no chips, but the bites with chips are super yummy.  I love big hunks of chocolate in a cookie.  I guess a solution for that could be to use more big chips…  Other than the chips and the addition of the toffee pieces, I didn’t do anything differently.  This is a terrifically simple recipe.  Enjoy!


Thin and Chewy Chocolate Chip and Toffee Cookies

From The Magnolia Bakery Cookbook

Makes 24-36 cookies


  • 1 1/2 cups flour
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 11 tablespoons unsalted butter,  softened
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup chocolate chips
  • 1/4 cup toffee pieces


  1. Preheat oven to 350°F.
  2. Combine flour, baking soda and salt in a bowl and set aside.
  3. Cream together butter and sugars until light in color, then beat in egg and and vanilla.
  4. Add the flour mixture and beat until combined.
  5. Mix in chocolate chips and toffee pieces.
  6. Use a cookie/ice cream scoop or tablespoon to drop scoops of dough onto a cookie sheet lined with parchment or a nonstick liner.  Space them a couple inches apart since they’ll spread during baking.  8 cookies per sheet works well.
  7. Bake for 8-10 minutes until lightly browned on the edges.  Let cool for a minute before moving to a rack.