Monday, April 16, 2012

Coconut Cream Heaven

It was a dreary weekend here in Chicago. To combat some of the gloom, on Sunday I tried my hand at my favorite dessert of all-time – coconut cream pie. I mostly followed this recipe here, but made a few slight adjustments, namely a store-bought crust and coconut milk instead of whole milk.

The result was pure perfection and rivaled some of the best coconut cream pies I’ve ever had. If you are a fan of this heavenly dessert I highly recommend this recipe. Enjoy!

Coconut Cream Pie

  • 1 store-bought crust, blind baked and cooled ahead of time

  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 large egg yolk
  • 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 cups coconut milk
  • 1 1/2 cups sweetened flaked coconut
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/8 teaspoon coconut extract

  • 2/3 cup sweetened flaked coconut
  • 1 1/4 cups chilled whipping cream
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1/8 teaspoon coconut extract
For filling:
Whisk 1/2 cup sugar, eggs, egg yolk, and flour in medium bowl. Bring milk and coconut to simmer in medium saucepan over medium heat. Gradually add hot milk mixture to egg mixture, whisking constantly. Return to same saucepan; cook until pastry cream thickens and boils, stirring constantly, about 4 minutes. Remove from heat. Mix in vanilla and coconut extracts. Transfer pastry cream to medium bowl. Press plastic wrap directly onto surface to prevent formation of skin. Chill until cold, at least 2 hours and up to 1 day. Transfer filling to crust. Cover; chill overnight.

For topping:
Toast coconut in heavy small skillet over medium heat until lightly browned, stirring occasionally, about 3 minutes. Cool completely.
Using electric mixer, beat cream, sugar, and coconut extract in medium bowl until peaks form. Spread whipped cream all over top of filling. Sprinkle evenly with toasted coconut. (Can be prepared 4 hours ahead. Cover and refrigerate.) Serve cold.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Who's that in the April Crate & Barrel catalog...?

If you can get your hands on this month’s Crate and Barrel catalog flip to page 58 where I’m making a guest appearance and stirring a Le Creuset and wearing a very cute apron! My very cool aunt was in need of models for their April issue and seeing as how I love cooking and I love Crate and Barrel I guess I was the perfect fit!  

In honor of my spread I thought I’d share my very favorite special occasion recipe (based off of this recipe here) that I made for The Boyfriend a week or so back for his birthday dinner. Beware: this incredible sauce simmers for FOUR hours so make sure you set aside enough time to babysit it. But the end result is the most mouthwatering dish I’ve ever made and rivals any Bolognese sauce I’ve had at any Italian restaurant.

Bon Appetite! And pick up the April issue of C&B!

Very Special Occasion Bolognese Sauce

Makes about 8 servings

2 tablespoons olive oil
4 tablespoons butter
1 large yellow onion, diced
4 small carrots, finely diced
2 large celery stalks, finely diced
4 garlic cloves, very finely diced
¼ lb diced pancetta (1/4 to ½-inch cubes) (bacon is a good substitute if you can’t find in your grocery store)
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1 ½ lb lean ground meat (blend of veal, pork and beef)
1 cup dry white wine
2 cups milk
1 28-oz can diced San Marzano tomatoes
1 cup beef stock


1.     Place a large saucepan over medium heat and melt the butter in the oil. Add the onion, carrot, celery and garlic with a good pinch of salt (about ½ teaspoon) and sauté for 5 minutes, stirring often. Add the diced pancetta and cook for a further 10 minutes, until vegetables are softened and pancetta is golden.

2.     Increase the heat to high and add the meat a third at a time, stirring and breaking lumps with a spoon between each addition. Adding the meat gradually allows the water to evaporate – which is key if you want to brown your meat and not boil it. After the last addition, when no pink can be spotted in the meat and no lumps remain, set a timer to 15 minutes. You want your meat to caramelize and even become crispy in spots. More water will evaporate and flavors will concentrate. You want golden bits of meat to stick to the bottom of your pan – this flavorful crust will then be deglazed with white wine. Watch over your pan as you don’t want your meat to burn. When you see some serious caramelization action happening, lower heat to medium to each the end of your 15-minute sautéing time (on my stove, that’s after about 8-9 minutes).

3.     Over medium heat, pour the white wine into the sauce pan. With a wooden spoon, scrape all the brown bits stuck to the bottom of your pan. Push the meat all around to make sure you scrape it all off. By the time you’re finished, the wine will be evaporated (2-3 minutes). Be careful not to let the meat stick again (lower the heat if necessary).

4.     Add milk, diced tomatoes (with liquid), beef stock, 1 teaspoon salt and a good grinding of pepper. Bring to a boil and then lower to the lowest heat and let simmer very slowly, half-covered, for 4 hours. Stir once in a while. If your sauce starts sticking before the end of your cooking time, lower the heat (if possible) and/or add a bit of stock or water. In the end, the sauce should be thick, more oil- than water-based and thick like oatmeal. Adjust the seasoning one last time – don’t be afraid of adding more salt (tasting each time you add some), it is this recipe’s key seasoning.

5.     Serve in bowls over cooked pasta and garnished with fresh grated parmesan and basil.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Easter Weekend Recap

Ever since I was little I have loved Easter. It’s the perfect excuse to wear pastels, spend time with those you love and eat delicious things. With my family currently spread out across the country (and world) this year was a little different, but special nonetheless. The boyfriend and I spent the weekend here in Chicago taking in the beautiful spring weather and playing host to our friend’s French bulldog Stanley.

On Saturday we scored some amazing tickets to the Cubs game and got a bit burned from sitting in the sun all afternoon. Then on Sunday we joined my aunt and cousins at my dear friend Peter’s house in Wicker Park and had one of the most incredible meals I’ve ever tasted. An amazing chef and entertainer, Peter is one of the best cooks I have ever met and we felt so lucky to be invited. I contributed to the feast by making a tray of my Grandfather’s famous Deviled Eggs and baking my mother’s famous chocolate cake, which I topped with festive Easter egg candies and toasted coconut (recipe below).

Even though I missed my family it felt as if we were creating some traditions of our own this weekend here in Chicago. Hope your weekends were just as wonderful!  

(clockwise: Peter's Standard Poodle, Big Daddy; me and Peter; Mr. Stanley; tray of deviled eggs; at the ballpark; a festive Easter cake; me and Jered)

Bessie's Chocolate Cake

2 c. sugar
1 c. butter, softened
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla
1 c. buttermilk
1 c. boiling water
2 1/2 c. flour
1/2 c. cocoa
2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt

Cream together sugar and butter. Add eggs and vanilla. Blend well. Sift together flour, cocoa, baking soda and salt. Add dry mixture to creamed mixture alternating with the buttermilk.  Add boiling water and beat well for two minutes.
Pour into greased and floured pans.  Bake at 350  until toothpick comes out clean (about 20 minutes or so depending on the pans used).   You can make this a 2 layer with 9" pans, a 3 layer with 8" pans or a 9x13" sheet cake. 

Chocolate Icing

1 c. butter, softened
1 tsp vanilla
1 lb. powdered sugar
1/2 tsp salt
4 Tbl cocoa
5-5 Tbl whole milk

Cream together butter and vanilla.  Sift together sugar, salt and cocoa. Gradually beat into creamed mixture. Add milk, 1 Tbl. at a time until icing is a creamy consistency.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Spring has sprung

Somehow, despite the fact that winter typically sticks around until May in Chicago, spring has sprung a few months early this year. This past weekend, thanks to St. Patrick’s Day, it seemed that the whole city came outside to embrace the 80-degree weather, the budding trees and flowers and the excuse to drink on their patios and sidewalks.

The Boyfriend and I were no exception. We wore green, drank greyhounds on a friend’s patio, made corned beef and cabbage, took a very long walk and had our first frozen yogurt of the season. Life just seems better when the weather is good.

Happy Monday!

Friday, March 9, 2012

Home is where your heart (and favorite Vietnamese restaurant) is...

This weekend The Boyfriend and I are off to my hometown of St. Louis, Missouri to spend some much-anticipated time with family and friends and to catch a Radiohead show this evening.

I remember that in high school, the time between me and graduation, and getting out of my hometown and onto college living couldn’t pass quickly enough. It’s so funny how your perspective changes. Now I find myself looking so forward to visits home – I don’t think I know any place that is more comforting or relaxing than my parents’ house.

Now a tourist in my home city, on visits I like to take advantage of some of the places and activities I took for granted when I lived there full time. Dinner at my favorite Vietnamese restaurant, brunch with my parents and shopping with my sister are all on the agenda. And I’m looking really forward to it.  

Here’s to a great weekend wherever you’ll be!

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Neon for Spring

A few weeks back, during a catch-up with one of my chicest friends who lives in LA, she asked me “So how fun is neon for spring?”

I have to admit, I was out of the loop at first and asked her what she meant. To which she replied that neon is all the rage this season and I better get on board.

Since then, neon seems to be everywhere I look. From the toes of other ladies at the salon this past weekend, to boards all over Pinterest, fashion week runways and the window at the Gap, Liz was right, neon is all the rage this season and I’m dying to get on board.

Here are few pops of color I’d love to work into my wardrobe/everyday world. How fun is it? Have you jumped on the neon bandwagon yet?

1.    Playful Neon Animals from Etsy | 2. MK Watch |

2.    Polish for Neon Nails | 4. The Perfect Pink Satchel | 5. Via

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Wishful Wednesday... Taylor Tomasi Hill's NYC Digs

Hate to be redundant, but while creating my crush list over the weekend (as seen here) I stumbled upon a Vogue profile piece on Moda Operandi’s artistic director, Taylor Tomasi Hill's NYC apartment. 

Located in Chelsea, Tomasi Hill's apartment, which she shares with her high school sweetheart turned husband (cute!), is IN-SANE. I can't get over all the color and her abundance of incredibly cool things. And I thought I was jealous of her clothing and impeccable wardrobe. Some ladies have it all. 

I invite you to take a gander and wish along with me. Sigh.