good food for simple entertaining

I am sharing one of my favorite chili recipes


over on Glad Mom Made.

This is one of those recipe I’ve never made without having a recipe request.

Yum. It’s a keeper.

UPDATE: I’m posting it below as well! I’m not sure the full instructions are up yet on Glad:

1 rotisserie chicken or 4 chicken breast halves
3-4 cans undrained navy beans or other white beans
1 onion, chopped
2 tsp chopped garlic
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp oregano
2 tsp chili powder
2-3 cans chicken broth
1 cup white cheddar or monterey jack, shredded
1 cup sour cream (optional)
3 tsp black peppercorns

Preheat pan to just above medium. Saute onions and garlic in light oil. Bring broth to boil, if needed, boil chicken and remove. To boiling broth, add onion an garlic mixture, spices, and beans. Simmer for 30 minutes. Shred chicken. Just before serving add chicken, shredded cheese, sour cream if using, and peppercorns (I crush half and sprinkle the second half on top). Serve with tomatoes, extra cheese, and corn chips or corn bread.


We have a new favorite way for the kids to help me out with cupcakes.

We call this the dot-to-dot cupcake.

This quick little project has turned out to be a great way to keep kiddos busy at the beginning of a party, while waiting for all guests to arrive (think of decorating cupcakes to put to later use in a cake walk).

And, I found, if you are in a rush and need to provide cupcakes for a bakesale, it is also the perfect way to have your kids turn bakery-bought cupcakes into mini works of art.

I’ve shared the full how-to today over at Glad Mom-Made. Hope to see you there!



A few years back I picked up this book on a whim from the library shelves. But as soon as I started reading it was clear I was going to need my own copy so I could mark all the good parts.

I adore much about this little volume. Adore hearing about twenty-something Nora arriving in NY and acting like the full grown up, finding circles of friends and attending dinner parties and making herself a devotee of one cook book after another. I remember when feeling so grown up when I first started cooking on my own. Don’t you? When you first have your own kitchen and are responsible for feeding people from it.

And speaking of being a grown up, I also enjoyed reading that there is another full-grown woman who has a terrible time at trying to commit to a good purse. Thank you, Nora.

But back to the cooking.

One part of the book stuck in my mind word for word, and I was immediately sure I’d just been let into a big secret of being a proper grown up, and a charming hostess. The kind of hostess everyone talks about, no, writes books about after leaving the party.

This big secret is what Nora calles the rule of four.

“The most important thing I learned from Lee was something I call the Rule of Four. Most people serve three things for dinner—some sort of meat, some sort of starch, and some sort of vegetable— but Lee always served four. And the fourth thing was always unexpected, like those crab apples [more on this in a sec]. A casserole of lima beans and pears cooked for hours with brown sugar and molasses. Peaches with cayenne pepper. Sliced tomatoes with honey. Biscuits. Savory bread pudding. Spoon bread. Whatever it was, that fourth thing seemed to have an almost magical effect on the eating process. You never got tired of the food because there was always another taste on the plate to match it and contradict it.”
[p. 25, I Feel Bad About My Neck]

Brilliance, right? I am a sucker for a good, classic recipe, well made. Serving a few classics and then adding something magical? so so brilliant.

And who is Lee? this friend and host who served one magical simple meal another? It is Lee Bailey, who has written cookbooks I am going to need to own some day soon, with titles like Cooking for Friends and Soup Meals and Country Weekends.

I love having friends who are great cooks (but I have to admit that none of them have written their own cooking volumes, yet) and adore picking up recipes and little tips from my cooking friends. And I am now adding Nora Ephron and Lee Bailey to that list.

So just to aid in my imagination that I am BFFs with Mr. Bailey and Ms. Ephron, and was peeking over Lee’s shoulders as he cooked, I decided to cook up Lee’s first meal for Nora.

“And then dinner was served. Pork chops, grits, collard greens, and a dish of tiny baked crab apples. It was delicious. It was so straightforward and plain and honest and at the same time so playful. Those crab apples!”
[p. 25]

Incase you are as totally inspired by Mr. Bailey as I am, I’ll add the particulars below incase you’d like to give it a whirl.

I’ll share in order of how you’d need to prepare for a dinner party, incase you want to try this out on some friends. The whole shebang is pretty simple, though your are going to need to get your oven going and a few burners on your stove.

Baked Crab Apples

We’ll start with the star of the show. Those crab apples. Crab apples come and go at my grocery store during the fall, so call before you shop. And if you have lady apples available, they’re just as small but more sweet than tart. I started with this recipe I’d seen a year or two ago and adjusted.
12 crab apples (three or four per guest is plenty)
3 Tbsp unsalted butter, room temp
1 cup sugar

Preheat your oven to 275. Smear each apple with butter, either by using a paper towel or doing it corn-on-the-cob style, and then roll in the sugar. Place in a baking pan and bake for up to an hour, when apples begin to look browner instead of pink, but while they still are a bit firm and before they wrinkle.

Now won’t those darling apples impress your dinner guests? They are perfect for eating with a fork and knife, or by hand. And you’ll have more time for conversation since they don’t go down as fast as applesauce.

Classic Grits
Now it’s time to get out a couple sauce pans. You might want to start the water boiling for the greens at the same time you start the grits. And as for the grits, I love this recipe from my man Alton Brown.
2 cups water
2 cups milk
1 tsp kosher salt
1 cup stone ground cornmeal (i like course ground yellow or white)
4 tbsp unsalted butter
4 oz sharp cheddar, shredded OR 3 Tbs bacon fat (optional, depending on if you want to impress your guests or be healthy)

Bring water, milk, and salt to a boil. Reduce heat to low. Slowly stir in cornmeal so it doesn’t clump, I use a whisk. Allow to cook on low for 20-25 minutes, stirring as constantly as possible, every two minutes if you can manage, until creamy and oatmealy but not too solid. Slowly stir in butter, add any additional salt you like to taste, and if you like, stir in bacon fat or slowly stir cheddar an ounce or two at a time so it fully combines.

Sauteed Garlic Collard Greens
I love the melt in your mouth collard greens, boiled for an hour with a couple ham hocks. But I also love the sauteed version, which leaves them with a little more zing.
2 bunches collard greens
2 tbsp butter
1 clove garlic, minced

Bring a pot of water to a boil. Meanwhile, cut the center stem from your collard greens and discard. Chop greens into large pieces, then boil for about 7 minutes, until they are wilted but still hold a little shape, then drain. Meanwhile, heat your pan for saute-ing to medium high. Melt butter, then toss in garlic and toast for a minute or two, and finally, toss in your greens and saute until they have just a little but of a brown fond on them.

Is it strange that I am completely craving collard greens right now?

Simple Porkchops
And the final piece, the chops. Pork chops are so good on their own, I like to keep them simple.
4 good quality chops
fresh thyme
1 Tbsp olive oil
salt and pepper to taste

Preheat your pan to medium high, pat chops dry with paper towels. Sprinkle chops with thyme and newly ground sea salt and black pepper. Add oil to pan, and saute. I usually saute for about six minutes on each side to get a nice caramelized chop, then reduce heat to medium until the chops are cooked through.

And now,

if any of you are still reading after that very lengthy post of me gushing over food,

I need to tell you that I am a huge fan of Southern fare. So if any of you are southern cooks, lets be friends! I would love hearing a thing or two about what you cook up.

And southern or not, what would your magical dish be?


I picked up some crab apples at Whole Foods for the cooking I mentioned I’ll be doing this weekend. But when the kids and I got them home and looked at them, we just couldn’t help ourselves.

We decided we had to dip a few in carameland make mini caramel apples.We decided we had to dip a few in caramel and make mini caramel apples.
Now I am trying to find an excuse to have a party for my daughter so I can show these off.
By the way, few grocers carry crab apples, so if you’re out to find some, call before you shop. And if your sole plans are to make mini–caramel apples, you’ll probably want to ask for Lady Apples instead (different than Pink Lady Apples). From my understanding, they are a little sweeter than crab apples, and just as mini.


Milkshakes are my favorite when we have company in town. Because really, what dessert is easier? Plus it is the perfect excuse to sink a straw in and indulge.

This weekend I came up with another way to share a shake. We put together a pumpkin pie milkshake kit to drop off to a few neighbors, so I thought I’d take a few pics and share. If you’re headed to someone’s home for Thanksgiving, this could make an excellent surprise to sneak into their freezer with a little thank you note.

I’m sure you know or can guess the basic makings of the shake. Depending on what I’m in the mood for, I’ll go with prepared pumpkin puree or homemade. The homemade freezes very well, so if you’re going to be prepping some for pumpkin pie, prep extra. Don’t tell, but I’ve made mine last for up to a year in the freezer before. And I always pick up pumpkin pie spice this time of year, to expidite all my pumpkin recipes. But you can mix up your own.

The basic makings of a Milkshake care package, if possible, should include cute straws. I picked up a few from Garnish. (Did you see Garnish carries a polka dot version too. eek! such cuteness.)

If you’d like to dress up your straws even more, you can find a few fun printables right here.

One of our favorite tricks is to butter up a few grahm crackers, sprinkle with cinnamon sugar, and toast them in the oven on broil. They are amazing crumbled on top or for just scooping out shake. I know, you’re telling me you don’t need to know that, you’re already having a milkshake. Oh, but you do, you do.
 All of the ingreds pile up nicely for a perfect fall delivery. (And if you’re in need of an alternative, non-melting fall care package, here’s a little something.)

Pumpkin Pie Milkshake
serves 4

4 cups vanilla ice cream
1/2–2 cups milk (I like my homemade milkshakes milky, so I go for a full two cups)
1 1/3 cups pumpkin puree, canned or homemade
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
2 Tbsp brown sugar
1 1/2 tsp pumpkin pie spice (or combine cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, cloves)

If your making this at home, dump everything in and blend, stopping occasionally to stir as needed. If you’re dropping this off for a friend (1) combine the brown sugar and pumpkin pie spice and tuck it in an envelope, then (2) fold the vanilla into the pumpkin puree and scoop it into a little cup. Stack on top of some yummy ice cream and deliver.

Toasted Cinnamon Grahm Crackers
12 full grahm crackers
2 Tbsp butter
2 Tbsp sugar
1 tsp cinnamon

Preheat oven broiler. Combine cinnamon sugar. Spread crackers very lightly with butter, sprinkle on cinnamon sugar. Broil until toasted.


We are in complete back-to-school mode here. But summer is not officially over. Not yet.

The final day of summer is still a couple weeks away. So I’ve been thinking. We need one more bash to send summer off right.

It recently occurred to me, while I was packing away groceries, that I could fit a pinata

in the freezer.

Of course I immediately got to work on making a pinata. I pulled out my Elmer’s glue, an old Amazon box, and a stack of tissue paper and got to work.

It took me all of a half hour.

We picked out a few ice cream sundaes in a cup. How cool would it be, by the way, to do a grown-up pinata with Hagen Daaz?

And we picked out a few good fixings too to go along with them.  We poured them in Whisker Graphic’s sweet little Bitty Bags.

Now here comes the sneaky part.

We’ll invite a few little friends for homemade cookies.

And of course there will be homemade cookies.

But we’ll also sneak the pinata from the freezer to the tree when no one’s looking. So we get to suprise everyone when the ice cream and fixings come tumbling out.


Before I begin, I have a first item of business. Today I am 33.

I won’t go into details about what I want from this year of life, since I tend to do plenty of that in January. And I can’t tell you how I’m celebrating yet (though Brent promised me this year it won’t involve kicking me out of the car alone in the middle of a city).

But I will say that my birthday fun started yesterday.

Because, holy moly, I was eating up (ahem) all your comments about recipes you’ve brought home as souvenirs. There are few things I enjoy more than reading a good story about food, and,

happy birthday to me!,

stories about pineapple fried rice inspired by Singapore, Creme Brulee French Toast from San Marino, San Juan Islands dressing, and even a quiche story that made me a little teary eyed. Okay a lot teary eyed.

(if you haven’t told me about a great recipe you brought back a souvenir, it’s not too late.)

So after all those incredible exotic souvenirs, I hope you’ll accept my humble oatmeal pancake recipe. Once you taste it, I think you will.
What I love and adore about these pancakes:
They melt right on your tongue, wow oh wow.
They are an amazing recipe for making for a crowd. Keep them piled up warming in the oven and they come out still tasting amazing. so amazing.
They are easy.
Did I mention they melt on your tongue?
How they’re a souvenir:
When we walked into the Stanley Baking Co. at the foot of the Sawtooths, half of my family came rushing up to tell me I had to try the oatmeal pancakes. Really? Their entire menu looked amazing, but I took a leap of faith. I ordered the pancakes.

And after experiencing them, I knew I had to have these pancakes again. I had to have them in my life. I came home all ready to deconstruct the recipe, as I’ve tried after other life-altering eating experiences, then ran across this. Crossing all my fingers, I tried it, and eureka!

So, without further ado, here is a souvenir for the summer I’d like to share with you.

Melt-in-Your-Mouth Oatmeal Buttermilk Pancakes
Adapted from Food & Wine.
As Tina Ujlaki says, These are not “your usual fluffy, light buttermilk pancakes; they’re very thin, tender and oaty in the center.” Tender. Oh so tender.

2 1/4 cups buttermilk
1 cup rolled oats, not instant or quick cooking
2 large eggs, beaten
1/2 cup whole-wheat flour (I use 1/4 cup wheat and 1/4 cup oat flour, see below)
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
Pinch of salt
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted, plus more for the griddle

the night before:
If you’d like to replace half of the wheat flour with oat flour, dump some rolled oats (the old-fashioned kind, not the partially cooked quick oats) into a food processer and give them a whirl until they resemble flour.
—Dump rolled oats and oat flour (if using) and buttermilk into a medium bowl. Let those oaks soak overnight.

the morning of:
—Preheat your griddle. I find medium to medium-low heat is about right. You want to find that sweet spot where your pancakes brown beautifully, but still bubble and cook much of the way through before you need to flip.
—Whisk the eggs into the buttermilk mixture. Add dry ingredients and mix them in. Add the melted butter and fold it in.
—Melt a little of remaining butter onto the griddle, then scoop the batter on, 1/4 cup to 1/2 cup at a time, and cook away.
—These pancakes are fantastic for feeding a crowd. Set your oven to warm and keep them all stacked inside until everyone’s ready for breakfast.
—Serve with a pat of butter and maple syrup. Homemade applesauce is also a pretty good idea for a topping. Pure heaven.

Be sure to use old fashioned rolled oats, not instant
I like to keep powdered buttermilk on hand, so if I want to whip up these pancakes on a whim, I don’t have to panic if I don’t have buttermilk.
I like to whirl up a little oat flour to replace part of the wheat flour. It takes only a few seconds in my food processor, and I add it along with my rolled oats to soak overnight.
These brown up so beautifully. If I’m cooking for a group, I get one pan going on the stove top and my griddle going right along side of it at around 375 F (if you don’t have an electric griddle, go get one, what are you waiting for? mine was just $15).
Check out my latest impulse buy for my kitchen. It is quite the weapon spatula. I like to whip it out when I’m cooking on the griddle to show I’m serious. I also wave it threateningly when anyone gets in my way. Seriously, people. This is what you get when you’re up too late browsing amazon.
And the end result. Bite in and experience the in-your-mouth melting.


mmmm. Summer evenings are my favorite. I am always looking for a good excuse to be outside when the sun goes down—s’mores, stargazing, or of course, the quintessential backyard movie night.

As the wife of a film fanatic and former Circuit City salesman (I used to visit Brent at work in college and admire him in his pinkish-maroon Circuit City shirt), I have been required come to appreciate a great backyard set up. So here, with the combined efforts of my techie husband and untechie self, are a few of the tips we’ve learned.
1. Find a good spot. If you have a couple spots to choose between, try them out. Issues you might not have thought about, like how far from the screen you’ll be sitting or street lights shining right by the screen may make one spot a top pick once you’ve tried it.

2. Your projector also needs a good spot. The higher you can mount the projector the better. Right now we just place ours on a table in the lawn. This works but no one can sit right in front of the screen. Getting the projector installed at the height of the screen is ideal, if you can swing it.

3. Set up the screen. I’ll let Brent take it away with 4 cheap DIY options we’ve tried or thought about trying:

Hi everyone, this is AmberLee’s techie husband, Brent. Here’s the thing about the screen. Part of the image quality is the type of screen you use. Being cheap, I have tried all kinds of DIY options over the last couple years that have given us pretty decent image quality:

The first screen that I made used pine wood as a frame with curtain backing that I purchased from JoAnne’s. I then added some backing and grommets to the fabric and stretched it onto the frame. This gave a nice lightweight screen that I could then remove when we were done, and fold up into a bag, which helped keep it clean. With my limited sewing ability, I was never able to make this strong enough (or baby proof), but if someone really knew what they were doing they could do a good job at creating something that can take the stress of the stretched fabric. The only limitation here is the size of the fabric. The last thing you want is a seam in your screen and so you are limited to about a 5′ high screen.

The second screen I used on the same frame. I went to Home Depot and picked up a panel of vinyl that is made for commercial bathrooms. I found one that had a clean smooth back. I then used heavy duty velcro to velcro it onto the frame. It made a great screen. It is a little more of a challenge to store but didn’t cost more than $40 all together. This screen is limited to about 4′ tall.

The third option we’ve tried is a white wall, actually an off-white wall. We’ve thought about painting it with reflective paint to add some reflectivity. This helps you start your movies sooner, like you could do with a more expensive projector. Of course, this may not be for everyone who wants a permanent wall dedicated to movie viewing.

A forth option is one roll of 53″ white seamless paper. This is the heavy roll paper that photographers use as backdrops for product photography, and it is available in camera supply stores. This is not great outdoors but could be an inexpensive option indoors.

UPDATE: We also like Leanne‘s idea of using a white shower curtain with a curtain rod taped to the bottom. Affordable, flat, and easy to roll up and keep clean. Thanks, Leanne!

4. Get the system. Ya, this is clearly Brent’s area of expertise:

PROJECTOR. When choosing a projector, remember this. The bigger the screen, the better the resolution you need to be able to see the image. A High Definition Projector is your best bet. Look for something that has an HDMI input and you should be in good shape. Beyond that, as you increase the price of the projector what you generally find is the brightness level of the projector increases. That will allow you to start your movies earlier in the evening, which may or may not be worth the extra money to you.

AUDIO. This is where most people skimp. But this is the part that makes the most difference. It doesn’t do you much good to create a giant image and then force your guests to guess what the people are saying. That said, you don’t need to spend a lot of money to make a great sound system. This is not a place where you need surround sound or high quality speakers, volume is more important than clarity. I live in a place where no one cares if I am blasting my system at 11pm while watching The Bourne Identity (or Pride and Prejudice) but even if you have neighbors that don’t appreciate the volume, you still need something that can project the sound to your guests. Without walls to reflect the sound you typically need more than you would indoors.

I would suggest that you get a stereo receiver or old sound system that is around. People want surround sound in their homes so this is something you can pick up cheap on craigslist. You then want to find some speakers. Again, these do not need to be high quality speakers that you would use in your home theater in your home. I looked on craigslist for DJ speakers and went with some of the cheapest I could find.

BLURAY. If you can show your movies in bluray, do it. As your screen gets bigger the image quality is stretched. DVD’s produce about 500 lines of resolution, bluray gives you 1080 lines of resolution. That is twice as much picture that you are going to stretch. If you can’t get your copy of Anne of Green Gables on Bluray (they don’t make it, I have looked for AmberLee’s sake), at least pull out your bluray player to project the DVD. Most Bluray players try to convert the image and double the lines that are produced. You will still see a difference between that and Bluray, but it will be much better than just playing the disc on a laptop or old DVD player.

5. Think about seating and lighting. The perfect seating for us has been a blanket for the kids in the front, and folding chairs for the grown ups in the back. But you can get creative (think hay bales). You’ll also want to think about having a little ambient lighting so guests can find their way to the bathroom or the snack table without tripping over things or other people. A string of lights at the snack table can be just enough.

6. Two words. Bug spray. Or citronella. Or incense. Or if the night is cool enough, piles of blankets are a nice alternative.

7. A good flick. Okay, what are your favorites for a get together? (Ever since seeing this movie map I’ve been wanting to host a 50-day film fest.) In the pic we’re watching one of our faves, Big Fish.

8. Good food. I adore a great. gourmet. popcorn. recipe. I also love prepping some cuisine from the movie we’ll be showing, if I have the time. But one of my all-time favorites is something our good friends showed us, and it is great for an impromptu movie night. Have everyone bring a bag of candy or snacks, hand out bowls or paper bags, and let everyone create their own custom movie mix. Simple. Perfect.


My friend Miranda of Narrating Life is hosting a blog hop today.

And the topic is hostess gifts.

And since that is the funnest topic ever and since Miranda is a darling, of course I was thrilled to join in the blog hopping fun.

Also because I happen to know what the best hostess gift ever is.

No contest.

I know because I got it last week. It is breakfast.

Think about it, you just turned over your entire house to houseguests or worked the day away in the kitchen for dinner guests. What is the last thing you want to do the morning you wake up after all that fun?

Make more food. But you want to eat food. So this is where the hostess gift comes in.

After having a houseful of houseguests last week I woke up the next morning to find my sneaky SIL had cleaned everything and my sneaky little sister had made me a wonderful ooey layered loaf of this amazing bread.

That’s right, thanks to the baking brilliance of Joy the Baker and my sweet sister I pulled the kids out of bed the next day and sat down to this amazing thing.

Of course I did not take a photo of our delicious pull apart cinnamon bread because I was too busy pulling it apart.
and eating it.
all of it.
by noon.
But it was such the perfect breakfast (and lunch) that we couldn’t wait even a week before making one for ourselves. This time, we used my favorite orange roll recipe from Martha and made the recipe Joy’s pull apart style and it was pure heaven.

Pull Apart Orange Bread
Based on Joy’s Pull Apart Cinnamon Bread
and Martha’s Orange Rolls

2 envelopes active yeast (2 scant tablespoons)
1/4 cup warm water mixed with a pinch of sugar
1 cup scalded milk, cooled slightly
2 large eggs
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
Finely grated zest of 2 oranges
1/4 cup vegetable shortening
3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
2 1/2 cups confectioners’ sugar
5 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed orange juice
Vegetable oil cooking spray, for bowl and tins

1. In a mixing bowl, sprinkle yeast over sugar water; let stand until foamy, about 5 minutes. Add milk, eggs, granulated sugar, salt, half the zest, and shortening. Slowly add flour, mixing until combined. Knead until shiny and elastic, 3 to 5 minutes. Place in an oiled bowl; cover with plastic. Let rise until doubled in bulk, about 1 1/4 hours.

2. If you’re making the dough the night before, like I did, so it is all set to roll and bake in the morning, this is the part where you can cover your dough and let it rise in the fridge overnight.

3. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Make filling: In a small bowl, mix remaining zest, 1/2 cup confectioners’ sugar, and butter. On a well-floured work surface, gently knead dough 3 to 4 times to release air pockets. Roll out dough to an 18-by-14-inch rectangle, dusting with flour as needed. Brush some of the filling over bottom half; fold to enclose. Brush half with filling, and fold again to enclose. Let rest about 5 minutes.
4. Lightly roll out dough again to a 12-by-8-inch rectangle. Brush half with remaining filling, and fold. Cut into squares. Place squares in coated pan (I used my new IKEA bread pan, which I love), with layers facing up. Let rise until almost doubled in bulk, 12 to 15 minutes.

5. Bake until golden, about 30–35 minutes. Remove from oven; let rest 5 minutes in pan, then transfer loaf to a cooling rack.

6. Make a thick icing by whisking together remaining 2 cups confectioners’ sugar and the juice. Drizzle over loaf. Pull apart and taste pure heaven.
Your blog hopping fun has just begun. Be sure to pick up more hostess gift inspiration today from these lovely ladies.
Marisa, Make Happy // Joy, Simply Bloom // Jocelyn, Inside BruCrew // Michelle, Chez Moi



Mr. Banks taught us a few awesome tips for grilling a good steak, and with Father’s Day just around the corner, I thought I’d share some of my new-found grilling super powers. Brent and I thought we’d put his pro tips to work on a pair of filet mignon (filets mignon? help me out here).

These tips also work great on a t-bone, porterhouse, ribeye, or strip steak. I like a filet mignon because it is super lean and tender. It’s a non weight bearing cut so it is often so tender you can cut it with your fork. My kind of steak. My husband prefers something with a little more flavor and marble, so we may be grilling His and Hers steaks for Father’s Day this year.

Any of the cuts I mentioned are pretty great for turning out a great steak. Just make sure to buy the right breed and brand. Mr. Banks says Black Angus is his favorite.

(As a random side note, you may not have been around long enough to know we raised a couple black angus of our own. They are not my favorite to raise. They love to break out, usually while you are trying to feed your children breakfast. I was forever herding them home, usually dropping everything mid-breakfast, throwing on pasture boots and occasionally running dead sprint to cut them off, all this while I was 7-months pregnant. ya. good times.)

Let’s get to the grilling. Here are seven steps to grilling the perfect premium Father’s Day steak with Mr. Banks pro tips included.

1. Buy the right meat. I know, we’ve been over this, I just wanted to make sure we agreed. Black Angus is always a safe bet. Any other favorites?
2. Bring the steak to room temp. Chilled filets at the beginning mean dry filets at the end. Pat those filets dry with a paper towel, then let them sit out on the counter for 30 min or so. Then pat again.
3. Season with ground pepper. With a filet mignon especially, because it is so lean, I occasionally like to add granulated garlic and rosemary. But keep it light, and don’t marinade a prime cut (filet, t-bone, porterhouse, ribeye, or strip steak). You don’t want to cover the natural flavor.
NOTE on SALT: I prefer not to add salt until after grilling, because it can pull the moisture right out of that prime steak (I’ve tested a salted and nonsalted steak, it really is true). If you have an, ahem, more economy priced cut of beef, I love this method (found via stephmodo) of slathering on the salt.
4. Preheat the grill. For searing a steak, you’ll want your grill hot and ready to caramelize the natural juices in your steak. You’ll know your grill is ready if you hold your hand a couple inches above the grill and can’t keep it there for more than two seconds. For a gas grill, this will take about 20 minutes. Mr. Banks always uses charcoal. I used gas. Don’t judge me, Mr. Banks!
5. Okay, are you ready to grill? You need one more thing. A pair of BBQ tongs. And put your meat thermometer away. Never, and I mean never, pierce your filets. You’ll lose the natural juices. Mr. Banks taught me a great trick for finding out when your steak is done without a thermometer, which is coming in two steps.
6. Let’s grill. Put that filet on the grill and let it grill for three minutes, keeping the lid open. Handle the filet as little as possible. Pick up the filet, with your tongs, and rotate it a quarter turn to get those great grill marks. Let it grill three minutes longer. Now flip the steak and do the same thing on the opposite side.
7. Test for doneness. This is where Mr. Banks pro tip comes in. Once you’ve carmelized both sides of your steak, it should be done if you like it rare. If not, close the lid and let the steak cook until it has reached just under your desired tenderness (it will continue to cook a little once you pull it off the grill).

To find out how done your steak is without doing the unthinkable (piercing it with a thermometer), test by pushing on the top of your steak and seeing how firm it is. Then compare against the feel of the muscle on your hand just under your thumb (modeled here by the lovely Mrs. Banks, while holding my baby so I could take pictures). The firmness when your thumb is against your pointer is what your steak will feel like if it is rare. Thumb against your middle finger is medium. And thumb against your ring finger is well done. Go ahead, give it a try.


7. And the final tip, that we learned from Mr. Banks last time, is to let that meat rest. Ten minutes is good, twenty is better. Wrap those filets in foil and set them in a cooler and let the juices redistribute. This is also super nice when you’re entertaining, it gives you plenty of time to finish up any extra details or grill some veggies with your full attention.

When you sit down to your steak, you’ll be glad you waited.


Thanks to my friend and extraordinary barbecue chef, Mr. Banks, I am bringing you a trick for making sure you can make the most tender and juicy chicken on your barbecue. And Mr. Banks also, very generously, told me I could share with you his entire recipe and process for an impossibly simple, yummy barbecued roast chicken. We made this for a crowd of twelve this week and it turned out oh sooo good.

Btw, if you want in on a couple of his big secrets for grilling a steak, you’re in luck. Get them here.

Back to the poultry. Here are Mr. Bank’s exact tips and steps, with his big secret for juicy, tender chicken included.

1. Bring the entire chicken to room temp. Starting with a cold chicken means ending with a dry chicken. Let that chicken rest on the counter for at least 30 minutes. Pat it dry with paper towels.
2. Butterfly the chicken. Turn the chicken on its back and cut down the middle of the breasts. Pull it open. UPDATE: I chatted with Alan again about this recipe, and he said he will often cut down the back instead of in the middle of the breast, it leaves more moisture in the breast of the chicken.
3. Preheat your grill. You want to be able to hold your hand above the grill for about 8 seconds before you need to take it off to know your grill is the right temperature.
4. Spray that chicken with Pam (quick, simple, and just the right amount of coverage).
5. Are you ready for Mr. Banks favorite seasoning? This is his favorite whole chicken combo: Lawry’s poultry seasoning, lemon or lime juice, and Wishbone Italian dressing. And if it’s Mr. Banks favorite, than it’s mine too. Rub that bird well with poultry seasoning and step out to your grill.
5. Your job is to grill 2/3 of the time with the bone side down, 1/3 of the time with the breast side down, flipping it and basting every 10 minutes with the lemon or lime juice and Italian dressing.
6. Cook until this exact temperature. Are you ready? A meat thermometer should read 155 in the breast and 165 in the thigh (it will take about an hour and a half). It is important that you continue to the next step, Mr. Banks big secret, which finishes the cooking process (so in the end the breast will come to 160 and the thigh to 170).
7. Are you ready for Mr. Bank’s secret weapon for a tender juicy bird? This part is intrigal. Here it is.

That’s right. A cooler and a sheet of foil. Mr. Banks taught me this. Pick out a cooler that fits the meat your are cooking. Take your meat off the grill five degrees under the final temp, then wrap that baby in foil and let it rest, in the cooler (with no ice), for thirty minutes. Letting the meat rest allows juices to seep back throughout. Cut into it early and all your juices end up on your plate, not in the meat. Mr. Banks told me, if you’re making chicken, wrap it in foil and put it in a cooler. If you’re making ribs, wrap ’em in foil and put ’em in a cooler. If you’re making a tritip, wrap it in foil and put it in a cooler. And if you can manage to wait the full 30 minutes, it will mean a juicy cut every time.

I have one more awesome Mr. Banks tip that I am dying to share and that that I’ll be putting to work on red meat, just as soon as I can, and just in time for Father’s Day. So I will see you again soon!



alright, alright.

I know what you were thinking when you saw the title of this post. Chocolate and butter. Gee. I wonder if that tastes good?

Truly though, one of my favorite, simple things to toss into a picnic basket is a blended or infused butter. All the recipes for these are so simple, they are all about the ingredients, and they are the perfect thing to spread on a fresh baked baguette or flakey fresh croissant.

So, I know I probably don’t need to do any heavy convincing to get you to try chocolate butter, but really, this recipe is over the top, scrape out of the bowl good. And perfect for the simplest or dressiest of picnics.

Mmm. It takes just a couple steps to make a smooth chocolate butter with the tiniest bits  of bittersweet chocolate that taste heavenly as they melt away on your tongue.

Chocolate Butter

1 stick unsalted butter
2 Tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder
2 Tbsp confectioner’s sugar
2 squares (.5 oz or so) of your favorite chocolate, chopped
pinch of sea salt

Pile all the ingredients in a food processor and pulse until combined. That’s it.

Good chocolate and good butter. That is the only key. I used a Valrhona 85% bar for the chocolate. And if anyone has a great recommendation for butter, I’d love to hear. Ever since trying French butter I am very self conscious about our American versions. (UPDATE: Thank you Lindsay, for pointing me to this post about butter, I am now on a mission to hunt down Beurre D’Isigny or an Echire butter.)

I prefer to use natural cocoa powder. A well-made brand keeps the fruitier flavor of the original cacao. If you prefer the more typical brownie flavor of cocoa, go for Dutch processed cocoa powder.

If you’d like to create molded butter, which is kind of fun, sprinkle additional cocoa over any mold you like, press chocolate butter inside, refrigerate until firm and remove. I like this to be room temp before serving it though, especially so the chocolate bits melt easily as soon as they hit your tongue.


Picnic Club


“Like a good pioneer, father hankered to eat outdoors. And he ate outdoors, come gale, come zephyr…Outdoors put an edge on my father like that on a new-filed saw.

Beyond the cook-house, under the oaks that dipped their eastern leaves in the ocean, father build him a table, with benches all the way around it, and mother had to serve our meals there. The wind blew up the tablecloth…the tea went flat and chilled…fuzzy caterpillers dropped into our milk…But eat out under the sky he would.”

—Robert P. Coffin


This year I was given an incredible cook book from a dear friend, and when I came upon this quote, I was enraptured. I am such a sucker for eating out of doors. Linens and silver on the lawn or just a blanket and some bread and cheese. I love it all.

So I could not go much longer without starting a picnic series. I’m calling it my picnic club, doesn’t that sound fun? and I’m starting today. In just a moment I’ll be back with a favorite picnic recipe. In the meantime,  check out another all-time favorite picnic recipe right here.


After last week’s post about making flourless chocolate cake, I’ve had a couple requests for a souffle how-to. So here is my list of tips for making the perfect souffle. I could also call this my list of everything I’ve ever done wrong to make a not-perfect souffle. Hopefully my mistakes are your gain.

Don’t be scared that there is a list. If your oven is the right temp (buy an inexpensive oven thermometer if you need to check) and you know what to look for as you go (read through my list once), you can pull off a beautiful souffle with dramatic height that will make everyone at your table think you are a culinary master. Doesn’t that sound worth it? I’ve included my killer chocolate souffle recipe at the end, and I promise, if you try it once or twice you’ll be ready to make it for anyone.

chocolate souffle a la mode

A good souffle is all about the drama. Make sure everyone is at the table, ready for presentation of the souffle right from the oven, while it is light and airy and heavenly.

You can prep your souffle in advance. As long as your kitchen is not too warm, the souffle can sit at room temp for up to half hour before you bake. You can also prep most souffles a day in advance and leave them in the fridge, just invert a bowl over the top. When you’re ready to bake, put it straight in the oven.

I’m told you can also freeze a souffle dish full of batter, and put the souffle straight from the freezer to the oven. How fun would it be to have a row of ramekin-size souffles in the freezer, waiting to be popped in the oven any day you need a pick me up?

Ingredient and Equipment Prep
No farm fresh eggs. Eggs that are too fresh will not hold air as well as those that have been around for a while.

Eggs need to be at room temperature. Take your eggs out of the fridge at least an hour and up to a day in advance. Eggs are easier to separate when cold, so separate them into bowls first, then cover with plastic wrap so the wrap touches the surface of the egg. Leave the bowls on the counter until you’re ready to cook.

I have a little secret. I almost always add an extra egg white. I’m telling you, I’m all about getting that dramatic height.

Once you’ve buttered your souffle dish and sprinkled it with flour, sugar, or crumbs, put the dish in the fridge while you make the batter.

The bowl you beat your whites in must be clean. The smallest streak of grease will ruin any chance your eggs had of whipping up properly. Use glass or metal, not plastic, which can hold onto grease.

You can add a collar to your souffle if you’re concerned about too much height and your souffle going lopsided, or if you want to fill past the brim. Take a piece of parchment paper long enough to wrap all the way around your dish, fold it in half lengthwise so it is stiffer, and tie it around the outside of the dish with bakers twine so it rises about two inches above the rim.

Mise en place. Make sure you have every ingredient measured and ready before you start. You need to work quickly from the moment you start beating those eggs. No time for digging through the drawer for a measuring spoon.

Making the souffle
Know your peaks. Soft peaks flop over from the base and are a little foamy (see pic below). Stiff peaks are glossy stand so only the tips fall over. But they still look moist, and will usually slip a little if you tilt the bowl. If your whites are dull instead of shiny, they’re overbeaten. Err on the side of under whipping. Over whipped whites are inflexible and cannot inflate as your souffle bakes.

To check for stiff peaks, I use the old fashioned trick of setting a new egg right on top of my whites as soon I think they’re stiff. If the whites can hold the weight of the egg, at it sinks no further than half the height of the egg, I stop whipping. If the egg sinks to the bottom, I whip another 30 seconds, rinse and dry my egg, and try again.

Be certain your base is cooled to room temp or close before you fold it into the egg whites. A base that is too warm will deflate egg whites.

Your base needs to be loose enough so it can easily fold into your whites. If it looks like putty, take a glance at your recipe and see what you can add to dilute it just enough to make it foldable.

Always fold a quarter of your whites into your base first to loosen it up, before you go folding in the rest of the whites.

Don’t over fold. It will deflate your whites. No need to fold until everything is perfectly combined. Streaks are okay. Just make sure there are not big lumps of base that have not been folded in.

I fill my souffle dishes to the brim or one inch below. Like I said, I like a nice, tall souffle.

To help your souffle to rise evenly, run your thumb along the outer edge of the dish, about a half inch deep or so, before you bake.

If you have a convection option on your oven, turn it off. Your souffle will start out looking great, but then will deflate after a few minutes.

I preheat my oven to 25 degrees higher than the suggested baking temperature. Then I drop to the suggested temp as I put the souffle in the oven. It helps the crust puff at the beginning and gives the batter on the inside something to climb.

Do not open the oven for the first 3/4 of baking time. And when you open to check for doneness after that, be quick about it.

Your soufflé is done when the top crust is golden and firm, but the souffle jiggles just a bit when you give it a gentle shake.

When in doubt, check with a knife or skewer. No use going to all that trouble and then serving a souffle that is half batter. Insert a skewer or knife into the center and make sure it comes out clean, with no wet batter clinging on.

You can make almost any souffle in individual ramekins instead of a larger dish. Just reduce baking time by about 8 minutes and be vigilant.

When you serve your souffle, make a big deal about it. Seriously. It’s a souffle. Serving it and eating it should feel important. Carry it carefully to the table, and use two spoons to break a slit open in the top. Watch as the steam escapes and your guests anticipate the first bite. If you have a sauce, pour it right in that slit. As you serve, dig down and give each serving a piece of the crisp crust and a piece of the creamy inside.

Once you’ve made your souffle, take a moment to think about what you might improve for next time. If your crust was too tough, your oven was probably too hot. If your souffle did not rise, your oven was probably not hot enough. Take a moment to jot down notes for next time.

eggs are easier to separate while they’re still cold from the fridge, but need to be at room temp before you begin
I like to fill my souffle dish to the brim. you can also add a collar and fill it even higher
this is a souffle I baked with a collar, I usually opt to go without, just because I like the rough, organic edges when the souffle rises without a collar
soft peaks will flop over at the top, these whites are just a little stiffer than I like mine for soft peaks
stiff peaks will be glossy and just the top of the peak will fall over, if your whites become flakey or dry looking, they are over whipped
I like to check my stiff peaks by gently setting an egg on top, if the whites support the weight of the egg, they are ready
My favorite way to fold is to gently plunge my spatula (use a large rubber/silicone spatula) into the middle of the batter, then come up scraping the side of the bowl and lifting the batter. Then I give the bowl a quarter turn and repeat until I’m satisfied. I always prefer to leave a few streaks rather than over fold

run your thumb along the outer edge of the dish, about a half inch deep or so, to allow the souffle to rise evenly

Chocolate Souffle
serves 6
24-26 min at 375 F
Here is the chocolate souffle recipe I’ve tweaked over the years. I’ve tried a lot of chocolate souffle recipes I didn’t love. This one I love. I like to use semisweet or bittersweet chocolate, 64% or higher, usually Scharffen Berger or Valrhona if I’m trying to impress anyone.

Mixer and beating attachment
Clean rubber spatula
Souffle dish or ramekins (any oven safe dish with sides that go straight up)

7 large egg whites, room temperature
3 large egg yolks, room temperature
5 oz bittersweet chocolate, chopped
2 tbsp butter, room temperature, plus more for prepping souffle dish
1/8 tsp salt
1/3 cup sugar, plus extra for prepping souffle dish

1. At least an hour and up to a day before, remove eggs from fridge and separate (they separate easier while they’re still cold). Cover with plastic wrap that is touching the surface of the egg. Allow eggs to come to room temperature.
2. When you’re ready to bake, preheat oven to 400 F.
3. Prepare souffle dish or ramekins. Generously butter then sprinkle with sugar. Knock out excess. Place dishes in the fridge until you’re ready to fill them.
4. Beat yolks on medium until thick and pale yellow (I like to do this with my hand mixer in a small bowl. I just feel better using a different beater than I use for my whites, so I am sure I don’t have any yolk on the beater when I whip my whites. But just cleaning your beater and bowl well will work too.)
5. Melt your chocolate over a double boiler or in the microwave (see more details than you will ever need about melting chocolate right here). I always melt in the microwave for simple baking. Dump chocolate into a microwavable bowl, preferably not glass because that conducts too much heat. Cook one minute on half power. Remove and stir. Continue cooking for 30 seconds at a time on half power, stirring between, until chocolate is melted. Stir until melted. Add butter and salt and stir until fully combined. If butter will not fully melt, it’s okay to put everything back in the microwave for 15 seconds longer (at half power again).
6. Fold yolks into chocolate until fully combined.
7. Are you ready to whip those whites? Make sure you have a perfectly clean, dry mixing bowl. Whip on medium-high until the whites form soft peaks.
8. Add the sugar half at a time, beating for a few seconds after each addition. Beat until whites are shiny and form stiff peaks. Do not over beat. If you over beat, your whites will become rigid and won’t be able to expand in the oven and rise to form the perfect, ethereal souffle.
9. Using a rubber spatula, gently fold about a quarter of the beaten egg whites into the chocolate mixture until fully combined. Spoon the remaining whites on top and fold until mostly combined. Don’t over fold here. It’s okay to leave a few streaks.
10. Spoon the batter into the prepared souffle dish and smooth the top. I also run my thumb along the outer edge of the dish, about a half inch deep or so, to allow the souffle to rise evenly.
11. Reduce the oven temp to 375.
12. Bake until the crust is browned, but the middle jiggles slightly when you gently shake, about 24 to 26 minutes (about 16 minutes for individual-sized ramekins).
13. Serve immediately to your table full of admiring guests.