Wednesday, May 30, 2012

{ cherry limeade gin & tonic }

It's no secret that my favorite cocktail is a gin and tonic with tons of lime. I never, EVER get tired of it. Maybe it's my British Mama who drinks it (and always has) almost as much as I do, or maybe it's the sweet and tangy lime that sings to my TexMex roots ... to be honest, it doesn't really matter. That first fizzy, icy swallow always soothes me and makes me smile.

Here's a fun fruity twist on the classic, just in time for summer. It's pretty to look at, and just as beautiful to sip.

By the way, while we're on the subject ... have I ever mentioned that I'm an ice snob? It drives my husband nuts, but trust me, good ice makes a difference, especially in a cocktail. So, if at all possible, buy a bag of good, clear ice when you're planning a cocktail or dinner party. Or keep a spare bucket on hand in the freezer. Just please, oh please, when mixing a good drink, do all you can to avoid those cloudy, crescent moon-shapes from the ice maker (caused by entrapped air and minerals) -- it's like-glopping a bunch of ketchup on a perfectly-cooked filet mignon. Sacrilege.

Cherry Limeade Gin & Tonic


  • 2 oz. London dry gin
  • Tonic water (from a fresh, pre-chilled bottle, or else tonic will be flat in your cocktail)
  • 1/2 oz maraschino cherry juice
  • 2 ample wedges of lime
  • 1 maraschino cherry
  • Plenty of clear ice cubes

  • Process
    If possible, chill the glass. You may want to fill it with ice, then empty it and refill, as some bartenders do with a martini glass.

    Fill the glass with whole ice cubes.

    Pour the gin over the ice, which should be cold enough that it crackles when the liquor hits it.

    Fill glass almost to the top with tonic; mix.

    Add cherry juice, allowing it to settle to the bottom (do not mix).

    Squeeze lime wedges into the glass and drop the squeezed lime into the drink as a garnish (making sure peel is washed ahead of time). Drop in a cherry. Serve.

    Monday, May 28, 2012

    { it's never too early for halloween }

    Lighted Witch Hats
    Whimsical Witch Hats
    I've frequently shared my love for all things fall ... and all things Halloween. I've also written about y passion for RAZ decorations. Their Christmas ornaments and decor are divine, but I think I love their Halloween stuff the best. Trendy Tree (Pence Christmas Tree Farm) has the best RAZ inventory I've been able to find -- and their customer service is awesome.

    So each year when the new inventory is available, I get a little giddy on the inside.
    Halloween Ball Spray

    Lighted Skeleton Heads on a Stick
    Yes, it's almost June. Yes, summer is just beginning. But a girl can still dream of fall leaves, crisp nights, pumpkins, apple cider donuts, ghosties and goblins, no?

    Here are some of my favorites from the 2012 RAZ Halloween collection. Now, please don't go and buy out all the cute stuff, y'all, ok?
    Witch Legs

    Whimsical Black & Silver Striped Cats

    Monday, May 21, 2012

    { shortbread lemon bars }

    If you like shortbread (I personally would want it included on the menu if given my choice of a last meal), this lemon bar recipe will have you ooohing and ahhhing with every bite.

    And kids, it's so easy. I say that all the time, I know, but truly. Considering the depth of flavors in this simple dessert, it's crazy how non-intimidating it is to put together.

    I actually made two: one for home, and one for the ladies at the gym who watch Paige while I try to burn off all the chicken fried steak and lemon bars I eat. ;)

    Shortbread Lemon Bars
    (adapted from

    • non-stick cooking spray
    • 14 tablespoons salted butter, just melted (and cooled to warm, not hot)
    • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
    • 2 cups + 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour

    Lemon Topping:
    • 4 large eggs
    • 1 1/4 cups granulated sugar
    • 1/8 teaspoon salt
    • 3/4 cup freshly-squeezed lemon juice (about 3 - 4 lemons)
    • 1 tablespoon finely-packed, finely-grated fresh lemon zest (a microplane yields perfect results)
    Crust: Preheat oven to 325°F.

    Line a straight-sided 13 x 9 inch baking pan with foil, letting the ends create an overhanging edge for easy removal. Lightly coat the sides of the foil (not the bottom) with nonstick cooking spray to prevent the lemon topping from sticking.

    In a medium bowl, stir together the butter and sugar. Stir in the flour to make a stiff dough. Press the dough evenly into the bottom of the prepared pan. Refrigerate the pan for 30 minutes (or freeze for 5 to 7 minutes), until the dough is firm. Prick the surface of the dough (multiple times) with a fork.

    Bake until the crust is golden and set, about 30 minutes. While crust is cooking, make the lemon topping.

    Lemon Topping: In a medium bowl, whisk the eggs, sugar, flour, and salt together until smooth, about 1 minute. Whisk in the lemon juice and zest.

    Pour the topping over the hot crust. Return the pan to the oven, increasing the heat to 350°F.

    Bake until the topping is set in the center (no longer wiggles when the pan is moved) and the edges are golden, 20 to 25 minutes.

    Set the pan on a metal rack to cool until the crust is completely firm, at least 1 hour.

    When the bottom of the pan is cool, carefully lift the bars from the pan using the foil sides, and transfer them to a cutting board. Cut the bars into 2-inch squares.

    Sunday, May 20, 2012

    { perfect chicken fried steak with homemade cream gravy }

    Looking for a fantastic Sunday (or Tuesday, or Friday, or ....) meal?

    It's your lucky day: a beautiful, deliciously perfect chicken fried steak recipe has just fallen into your lap. I love how Ree Drummond (aka The Pioneer Woman) describes this recipe: "There’s nothing special about this dish, except that it’s a total miracle."

    I know, I know. Calories galore. But every once in a while, we all deserve to dive into a big ol' heaping helping of sin on a plate, no?

    There are several keys to the success of this recipe. The first and foremost is the steak -- cube steak, to be exact -- which is round steak that's been extra, extra tenderized. Another key is the double-dredging process of the milk and flour coating -- it's done twice, making the results extra crispy. The final key ... the gravy. For Heaven's sake. If you make this recipe, you must make the gravy.

    Anybody and everybody appreciates a homecooked meal. And this one epitomizes comfort and love. Added bonus: it's super affordable steak.

    Do it. You know you want to.

    Perfect Chicken Fried Steak with Homemade Cream Gravy
    (adapted from The Pioneer Woman)


  • 3 pounds cube steak (tenderized round steak)
  • 1-1/2 cup whole milk; plus up to 2 cups for gravy
  • 2 whole large eggs
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • seasoned salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • ground black pepper. Lots.
  • canola oil, for frying
  • salt and pepper, for both meat and gravy

  • Process
    Combine flour, seasoned salt, cayenne pepper and desired amount of ground black pepper.

    In a separate bowl, add milk and eggs, beaten together with a fork.

    Begin with an assembly line of seperate dishes for the meat-dredging process: milk mixed with egg; flour mixed with spices; then have one clean plate at the end to receive the breaded meat.

    Work one piece of meat at a time. First season both sides of steak with salt and pepper, then dip in the milk/egg mixture.

    Next, place the meat on the plate of seasoned flour. Turn to coat thoroughly. Place the meat back into the milk/egg mixture, turning to coat. Place back in the flour and turn to coat.

    wet mixture + dry mixture + wet mixture + dry mixture

    Place breaded meat on the clean plate, and repeat with remaining meat.

    Heat oil in a large skillet (ideally, cast iron) over medium heat. Drop in a few sprinkles of flour to make sure it's sufficiently hot. Cook meat, three pieces at a time, until edges start to look golden brown; around 2 to 2 1/2 minutes each side, using tongs to gently flip.

    Remove cooked steak to a paper towel-lined plate and keep warm. Repeat until all meat is cooked.

    Gravy: Pour grease from finished meat-cooking pan into a glass or heatproof bowl. Without cleaning the pan, return it to the stove over medium-low heat. Add 1/4 cup grease back to the pan. Allow grease to heat up.

    Sprinkle 1/3 cup flour evenly over the grease. Using a whisk, mix flour with grease, and continue cooking until mixture reaches a deep golden brown color. If paste seems more oily than pasty, sprinkle in another tablespoon of flour and whisk.

    Whisking constantly, pour in milk. Cook to thicken the gravy. Be prepared to add more milk if it becomes overly thick. Add salt and pepper and cook for 5 to 10 minutes, until gravy is smooth and thick. Be sure to taste to make sure gravy is sufficiently seasoned. I really prefer a great deal of freshly-ground black pepper in this gravy.

    Serve meat with mashed potatoes, and cover both with gravy.

    Thursday, May 17, 2012

    { lemon blueberry bread }

    Have you ever started out with simple, good intentions, yet ended up with the opposite results?

    A few days ago, I saw a recipe for lemon blueberry bread. It stuck in my mind, and I couldn't get the thought out of my ahead until I made it. And, while at it, why not be the person who makes a few loaves for some deserving folks in my life as well? I mean, if I was going to get the mixer dirty, I might as well go all out, no?

    So after a trip to the grocery store for a bag of lemons, four baskets of blueberries, and some plain yogurt (the apparent key ingredient in the recipe) I ended up with three separate, dense, heavy, partly-uncooked loaves of lemon blueberry bread. Total fail.

    I don't know what the heck happened. I followed the recipe, step by step. But for some reason, my tester toothpick kept coming out coated with raw batter. I couldn't get those suckers to cook! The recipe called for 50-60 minutes in the oven. At that point, the top was burning, but the center was still raw. Gross. So I covered it with foil and kept cooking. At about the 75 minute mark, I threw in the [dish] towel. And I couldn't make any more ... I'd run out of eggs.

    I was pissed. Super pissed. And dangit! I wanted lemon blueberry bread.

    The next day, I tried again, using a different recipe. A simpler recipe -- this time, no yogurt necessary (which I have a feeling was the culprit). The result was divine.

    Unfortunately, I only made one loaf. But lesson learned. Next time I feel like being the friendly domestic person who randomly impresses others by giving away homemade bread "just because", I'll have the winning recipe.

    Lemon Blueberry Bread
    (adapted from

    • 1 1/2 cups + 1 tablespoon all purpose flour, divided
    • 1 teaspoon baking powder
    • 1/4 teaspoon salt
    • 2 tablespoons grated lemon zest (about 2 lemons)
    • 1 cup fresh blueberries
    • 1/2 cup salted butter, room temperature
    • 3/4 cup granulated sugar
    • 2 large eggs
    • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
    • 1/2 cup milk

    Lemon Glaze
    • 1 cup powdered sugar
    • juice from 2 freshly-squeezed lemons

    Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray a 9 x 5 x 3" loaf pan with a non-stick spray.

    In a separate bowl, sift together flour, baking powder, salt, and lemon zest. Place the blueberries in a separate bowl and toss with the additional 1 tablespoon of flour (this will prevent the berries from sinking to the bottom during baking).

    With electric mixture and paddle attachment, beat the butter until softened (about 1 minute). Add the sugar and continue to beat until light and fluffy (2-3 minutes). Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Scrape down the sides of the bowl, as needed. Beat in the vanilla extract.

    With the mixer on low, add the flour mixture (in three additions) and milk (in two additions) alternately, starting and ending with the flour. Mix only until combined.

    Gently fold in the blueberries.

    Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and bake for about 55-65 minutes, or until the bread is golden brown and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.

    Lemon Glaze: In a small microwavable bowl, stir the powdered sugar with the lemon juice. Heat in the microwave for about 20 seconds, or until sugar has dissolved.

    When the bread is done, allow to cool in loaf pan for about 20-30 minutes. Then, gently flip loaf pan over an inverted cake plate or platter, carefully removing the bread from pan. Pierce the top of the loaf several times with a wooden skewer or toothpick and pour lemon glaze over the top, allowing it to run down the sides of the bread.

    Wednesday, May 16, 2012

    { bow ties }

    Cookies made to help celebrate the arrival of a very special little guy.