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12 Days of Christmas Cookies: An Online Cookie Swap

10 Dec

This month, I’m hosting an online cookie swap! For the next twelve weekdays, through Christmas, you will find a Christmas cookie recipe on a different blog each day. I don’t want to give away who is baking what, but recipes in the line up include classics like (my favorite) Peanut Butter Blossoms, and new recipes like Chocolate Persimmon Cookies, to look forward to. I hope you’ll follow along a bake up a sweet treat or two this season.

Here’s the schedule:

I love salty-sweet goodies, so I will kick it off in the kitchen with Salted Chocolate Pretzel Bark  Bites.

Salted Chocolate Pretzel Bites

You will need:

  • An 8×8 pan
  • Cookie cutter(s), shape(s) of your choice
  • Parchment paper
  • A hammer
  • Aluminum foil
  • Pretzel Thins
  • 1 (11.5 oz)  package of chocolate chips or chocolate flavored bark
  • Sea salt
  • 1 Toffee bar (such as Heath), chopped
  • Christmas sprinkles

Salted Chocolate Pretzel Bites

The Cookies for Santa plate is from West Elm a previous year and the 3D Tree cookie cutter is from Ikea.

First, line your pan with parchment paper and put down one layer of pretzel thins. Melt your chocolate in a double boiler or in the microwave (for about 1 minute 30 seconds, stirring every 30 seconds). Pour the chocolate evenly over your pretzels, spread with a spatula. Tap the pan on the counter to smooth out the chocolate. Top with sea salt, toffee, and sprinkles. Refrigerate until set, about 30 minutes.

When your bark is set, gently press your cookie cutter into the bark, then wrap a hammer in foil and tap your cookie cutter until the pretzels have been cleanly cut.

Salted Chocolate Pretzel Bites

If you plan on gifting some of your treats, my favorite way to wrap brittle or bark is with a small hammer, as seen here.

Comment below with your favorite Christmas cookie!

A Recipe for My All Time Favorite Dessert

22 Nov

There was a time in my life, shortly after I graduated college, that I went over to my mom’s every Sunday to cook dinner. We had a “deal.” I’d put together a menu and send her a grocery list, she’d go to the store. I’d do the cooking, she’d do the cleanup. I think I got the better end of the deal.

Sometimes I spent all day in the kitchen. I’d look for the most interesting and elaborate recipes I could find. And I’d make dessert every time. In those few months, I tried so many recipes and cooking techniques. We savored some of the tastiest food I have ever tried.

In these pre-Pinterest days I would spend time scouring for great recipes on blogs and sites like Epicurious, Martha Stewart, and AllRecipes.

Those meals are some of my favorite memories.

A few months ago, Anthony and I started attending a dinner club with a few couples from church. The host is a very talented trained chef. Every week, collectively, we pick a theme for the following week’s dinner and each couple brings a dish. It is even a little competitive! We have had fresh pasta, sliders, an Asian flop, comfort food, breakfast for dinner and homemade pizza, among others.

Dinner club is something I consistently look forward to. We started as strangers and our weekly dinners have nurtured both our bodies and our relationships. I have so enjoyed getting back in the kitchen and getting creative. I have also enjoyed getting back to the table and enjoying really good food. I love gathering around the table sharing food, recipes, and stories.

For our last dinner club, I made my (hands-down, no competition) favorite dessert, tiramisu. I wanted to share the recipe that I used (adapted from Gourmet).Translated from Italian, tiramisu means “pick-me-up.”I might be a bit of a tiramisu snob… I have tried more varieties than I can count. I prefer my tiramisu to be more light and fluffy than custardy.

Tiramisu Recipe

  • 4 egg whites
  • 3 egg yolks
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 8 oz mascarpone cheese
  • 1/2 cup chilled heavy whipping cream
  • 1 cup very strong brewed coffee or brewed espresso, cooled to room temperature
  • 2 tablespoons sweet Marsala wine, brandy or Kaluha
  • 1 pkg. (7 oz) savoiardi (crisp Italian ladyfingers)
  • 2 tablespoons dutch process cocoa powder

Tiramisu Recipe

Using an electric mixer, beat together yolks and 1/2 cup sugar in a large bowl until thick and pale. Next, beat in mascarpone until just combined.

Beat whites with a pinch of salt in another bowl with cleaned beaters until they just hold soft peaks. Add remaining 1/4 cup sugar a little at a time white beating and continue to beat whites until they hold stiff peaks.

Beat cream in another bowl with cleaned beaters until it just holds soft peaks. Fold cream into mascarpone mixture, gently but thoroughly, then fold in whites.

Stir together coffee and Marsala, brandy, or Kaluha in a shallow bowl. Dip 1 ladyfinger in coffee mixture, soaking it about 1 seconds on each side, and transfer to an 2-quart baking dish (often 8×8 square). It is important to do this step quickly so you do not oversoak your ladyfingers and cause your tiramisu to be soupy. Repeat with half of ladyfingers and arrange in bottom of dish, trimming as needed to fit snugly. Spread half of mascarpone mixture evenly over ladyfingers. Make another layer with remaining ladyfingers and mascarpone mixture. Chill tiramisu, covered, for at least 6 hours.

Just before serving, sprinkle with cocoa powder.

Note: The eggs in tiramisu are not cooked.

Tiramisu Recipe

What’s your favorite dessert?


Thanksgiving Menu 2013

8 Nov

Have you picked out your Thanksgiving menu this year?

In Martha’s Entertaining: A Year of Celebrations, Martha Stewart (or M. Stew, as my sister calls her) says, “I approach each holiday during the year as a pleasant challenge. I certainly am not of the “do it the same exact way” school of entertaining, …whereby every Thanksgiving is identical to the last and the one before that…. I am an enthusiast for change, for subtly altering the traditional to make it more interesting, more creative, more inventive. I am a firm believer that there are almost infinite choices for a single thing, such as the turkey.”

While I enjoy traditions and having a few of the same things each Thanksgiving, trying new recipes and new food is easily one of my favorite things. I’ve opted to swap some of the traditional Thanksgiving foods for a few festive alternatives.

Rather than mashed potatoes, I’ll be making goat cheese croquettes. Anthony and I had goat cheese tater tots at our rehearsal dinner, and fell in love with croquettes at the tapas bar we went to in Spain on our Honeymoon. Instead of cornbread, my husband has requested savory madelines.

Thanksgiving Menu 2013

When putting together the menu, I found it most difficult to control the carbs. Do we really need croissants, rolls, cornbread, stuffing, mashed potatoes and sweet potatoes?

Some of the recipes are hand-written in family recipe collections, and I will make up others  up as I go along, but here are links to recipes for a few of the items I included in my menu.

I’ll also be serving up mulled wine and cider. Desserts are still T.B.D. I am sure (well, not entirely sure) someone in the family will want pie. I am not much of a pie person myself and will probably opt to make a pumpkin cheesecake or a chestnut trifle. Roasting mallows in the cold and making s’mores also sounds perfect.

Look for some Thanksgiving tablescape ideas, from yours truly, on Hello Homebody next week!

What’s on your menu? What are some of your Thanksgiving traditions?

Crocktoberfest: Chicken Tomatillo Soup

18 Oct

Before I started Crocktoberfest, this is one of the few recipes I had ever made in a crockpot. It’s a staple around the Paolini house.

Chicken Tomatillo Soup

  • 8-9 fresh tomatillos, husks removed and quartered
  • 2-3 jalapenos, halved and seeded
  • 1.5 lbs boneless, skinless chicken (can be white or dark)
  • 8 oz. diced green chiles
  • 2 Tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 small onion, diced
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 teaspoons cumin
  • 1 teaspoon coriander
  • 5 cups chicken broth
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup fresh cilantro, chopped
  • 1 avocado, diced
  • tortilla chips (optional)

Place the onion, garlic and oil in the bottom of your crock. Turn on high. Meanwhile, using a blender, food processor, or immersion blender, puree the tomatillos with the jalapenos. Add the chicken to the crock. Sometimes I keep some cooked shredded chicken in the freezer. If I have it, I’ll use it for the soup, otherwise, I’ll trim the chicken and cut it into small cubes. Place the chicken on top of the onion, then add the cumin, coriander, green chiles, tomatillo mixture, and finally the broth. Turn your crock to low and cook for 6 hours. Add the salt and cilantro. Serve and garnish with avocado, a lime wedge, and crushed tortilla chips.

Texas Tortilla Chip in Tomatillo Soup

I love these Texas shaped chips from HEB.

Please, share your favorite crockpot recipes!

Fall is…

8 Oct

It seems like for most women fall starts with their first pumpkin spice latte of the season. For many men, it starts with football. For me, it starts with the State Fair of Texas. This year, I made my eighth annual trip.

Of course you’ve got to start the day with a pocketful of coupons…

State Fair of Texas Coupons

…and trade them in for the newest fried foods. Since we went with most of my family and several friends, we shared bites of countless new foods. Anthony tried the winner for best taste: the Cuban Roll. I tried fried Nutella. If you’re going to the fair,, skip it. You can hardly taste the chocolate-hazelnut spread. The Reese’s Funnel Cake on the other hand…

State Fair of Texas Best Taste 2013 Cuban Roll www.gustoandgraceblog.comThis year I skipped the Texas Star, the tallest Ferris wheel in North America, to ride Alpine Bobs. Alpine Bob’s was better than most rides at Six Flags.

Texass Star Ferris Wheel

No trip to the State Fair of Texas would be complete without a Fletcher’s Corn Dog with mustard…

Fletchers Corn Dogs

…or stopping by the new Big Tex.

Big Tex 2013

Pro tip: for the shortest line, check out the Fletcher’s stand in the Midway, rather than the one by Big Tex.

On the way home from Dallas-Fort Worth, Anthony and I talked about how we need to make some annual traditions in Austin. Another former fall favorite was going to the Greek Food Festival every year. I really making traditions will help make Austin home. Do you have any favorite fall or annual traditions?

Have you been? I think the State Fair of Texas is bucket list worthy.

Crocktoberfest: Yucatan Braised Short Ribs and Chipotle-Cheddar Mashed Potatoes

4 Oct

This month, I’ll be trying all kinds of slow cooker recipes and putting my favorites on the blog. I will call in Crocktoberfest. I have only used my crockpot a couple of times since we got it for our wedding. I figured fall was the prefect time to change that.

Look for a new crockpot recipe every Friday this month. This first recipe is an adaptation of a dish Yucatan Taco Stand used to serve, that I clipped from Fort Worth Foodie magazine a few years ago.

Crocktoberfest: Yucatan Braised Short Ribs and Chipotle Cheddar Potatoes

Yucatan Braised Short Ribs

  • 1/2 T cumin
  • 1 t cayenne pepper
  • 1/2 T  paprika
  • 1 t dried oregano
  • 3/4 t dried thyme
  • 1/2 t dried basil,
  • 1/4 t onion powder
  • 1/4 t garlic powder
  • 1/4 t red pepper flakes
  • 1/4 t dried cilantro
  • 1/4 t dried rosemary
  • 2 lbs. beef short ribs
  • 1 cup beef broth
  • 1 1/2 cups diced carrots
  • 1 cup diced onion
  • 4 cloves minced garlic
  • 4 springs fresh cilantro + 1/2 T chopped
  • 1/2 cup orange juice
  • 1 tsp. diced shallot

In a small bowl, mix the first eleven herbs and spices listed. Rub this on the ribs and layer evenly in the crockpot. Next, add the garlic, onion, carrots, and broth. Top with the fresh cilantro and cook on low for 6 hours. Remove the ribs and add the juices to a small saucepan. Add the OJ, the chopped cilantro, and the shallot and bring to a boil. Reduce by half. Use this a sauce for the ribs. Serve with:

Chipotle-Cheddar Mashed Potatoes

  • 2-3 red potatoes
  • 1 chipotle pepper in adobo sauce, diced
  • 1/2 cup shredded cheddar
  • 1 T butter
  • 2 T milk

Cube the potatoes and place them in a pot of boiling water. Cook 12 minutes or until tender. Drain the water and put to potatoes in a mixing bowl. While hot, add the cheddar, butter, chipotle, and milk. Using a potato masher or electric mixer, mash the potatoes.

Do you have any favorite slow cooker recipes you’d like to share?

Sprinkles Ice Cream and Cupcake ATM

10 Sep

Sprinkles Ice Cream Dallas

Have you been there yet? To Sprinkles Ice Cream. I assume you’re familiar with the now nationwide Beverly Hills based cupcake company, but did you know that they recently started opening up ice cream shoppes?

Sprinkles Ice Cream Dallas

On our last trip to Fort Worth, we squeezed in a trip to the newly opened (Aug. 16) shoppe in Dallas. They had Thomas Jefferson’s Ice Cream Recipe on the wall. I’ll be adding that to my list of recipes to try. I hear the former president was a foodie.

Sprinkles Ice Cream Dallas

It seemed their most popular offering was their cupcake sundaes, but I had to try a red velvet cone. I wish the red velvet flavor came across more, but the cone was delightfully thin and crisp. I think the fact that they serve “cake and ice cream” really sets them apart from other creameries, and the red velvet cones certainly don’t hurt.

Sprinkles Ice Cream Dallas

Of course I had to use the cupcake ATM, so Anthony and I split a vanilla hazelnut chocolate cupcake.  There’s a 50 cent premium for using the machine versus going in the store, but it functions 24/7.

Sprinkles Cupcake ATUM Dallas

If you’re lucky enough to live or travel to a city that has Sprinkles Ice Cream, I’d highly suggest going.

You can have your cake, and eat ice cream too.

Related Posts: Homemade Chocolate Hazelnut Ice Cream, Rice Krispie Treat Ice Cream recipe 

Homemade Peanut Butter Dog Treats

23 Aug

Meet Nola, our dog of 13 days. She’s a scaredy-dog, but a really, really sweet one, full of quirks. We rescued her from the Austin Humane Society. Nola is 5 years old, and she’s the perfect dog for us. Anthony and I were not wanting to potty train a puppy nor were we wanting a thousand hole-y objects to show for our attempt at training one not to chew.

Homemade Peanut Butter Dog Treats **

Nola knows exactly zero tricks. She is afraid to pass through doorways. She still eats less, and less regularly than any dog I’ve met. It took her a couple of days to realize treats are yummy. Nola doesn’t know how to play with dog toys. When we first got Nola, the only word she knew was “no.” She didn’t even seem to know she had a name (we tried calling her by her former name, Gypsy). Our dog goes in her kennel on her own, a lot. And Nola loves walks.

Homemade Peanut Butter Dog Treats **

Getting a dog was always in the plan for Anthony and I, but I thought it’d be a year or more before we got a pet other than Shapiro, the fish that used to be my office-mate. Then, on a whim, in a weekend, we visited the Austin Animal Shelter, Pets Alive, and the Austin Humane Society. If you’re going to get a dog, please, please rescue one.

Homemade Peanut Butter Dog Treats **

Here is the recipe for some treats I made for the newest member of our family. After reviewing about a dozen recipes online, I mixed and matched formulas to concoct this one using ingredients I had at home. I’m telling you, if Nola ate them, any dog will love them.

Homemade Peanut Butter Dog Treats **


  • 1 cup flour (whole wheat recommended)
  • 1/4 cup oats
  • 1 tsp parsley (this helps freshen dog breath)
  • 1 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 egg
  • 1/4 cup warm water
  • 1/2 cup natural peanut butter

Homemade Peanut Butter Dog Treats **

In a small bowl, mix together the flour, oats, baking powder and parsley. Add in the peanut butter, egg, and water. Mix well. Add more water if the dough is too dry, and flour if the dough is too sticky. Place the dough on a floured surface and roll it to 1/8 inch thickness with a rolling pin. Use the cookie cutter of your choice. I used approximately 3 inch fire hydrants and dog bones, but I think cats or squirrels would be funny. Place the shapes on an ungreased cookie sheet and bake at 375 degrees for 20 minutes.

Homemade Peanut Butter Dog Treats **

Knick knack paddy whack, give a dog a bone!

Eat Here, Not There: A Dining Guide to Austin, Texas

9 Aug

Austin is a great place for a weekend getaway. The proof is in the pudding, or maybe in the fact that so many people I know have made the short trip south from Dallas-Fort Worth. This summer I have seen so many Facebook statuses asking, “What should we do in Austin?” or “Where should I eat in Austin?” I love answering this question. When people visit I want them to taste and see that Austin is good. I also am appalled at some of the suggestions their so-called-friends make. (It’s a joke, ladies and gentlemen, lighten up)

I certainly am not an Austin know-it-all, but  I may have a slight obsession with trying places I have not been before, which means I have been to a lot of places. And while the Facebook status suggestions are well-intentioned and not innately bad, there are so many places that go beyond average in Austin, often at the very same price.

What I hope to experience when I travel is the best of the local culture and cuisine.  This guide is far from comprehensive, but serves the purpose of directing you away from the mediocre suggestions, giving you enough options for a weekend full of great food.

An Austin Dining Guide *

Breakfast tacos are abundant in Austin. If you’re coming from Dallas-Fort Worth, I’d suggest you go to Tacodeli over Torchy’s, but only because Dallas-Fort Worth has Torchy’s Tacos. Otherwise I’d suggest Tacodeli or Torchy’s over all other taco stands. My husband’s favorite breakfast taco is Taco Deli’s Otto. He added, “refried black beans with bacon and avocado…drooooooooooool .”

Craving a sandwich for lunch? Noble Sandwich Co. or Royal Blue, not Thundercloud Subs, are two great options. Noble Sandwich Co., previously known as Noble Pig, was featured on Diners, Drive-In’s and Dives. Royal Blue, on the other hand, is an unassuming grocer that sells pressed sandwiches from their front counter. Note: Their Store on 3rd and Lavaca does not sell pressed sandwiches. Thundercloud is like Austin’s personal Subway. They make average subs that a working Austinite might grab for lunch because it is quick, cheap, and local, not because it is anything to write home about.

For ice cream head to Lick, not Amy’s. If you ask people where to go and they don’t tell you Amy’s I’d be shocked. Amy’s is fine and dandy and even “Austin,” but Lick is an experience. Lick is made using all local ingredients, and while they have standard flavors like chocolate, they also offer creations like Goat Cheese, Honey and Thyme Ice Cream, as well as vegan and non-dairy options.

An Austin Dining Guide *

Texas barbecue is an Austin must. But if someone suggests Salt Lick, head to Kruez Market instead. Both are a short drive outside of Austin, but Kruez Market has been around more than a century and their pits are built into their floors. It is way cool with more meat options than your average bbq joint. If you’re looking for barbecue within city limits, hit up Lamberts or Franklin. Here is the secret to Franklin: People wait in line hours before it opens and it only stays open till they sell out, but if you go around 1pm, you won’t have a long line and while they might be sold out of some options, there is a good chance they will  still have their melt-in-your-mouth brisket.

If you want some good Tex-Mex, I’d send you to Trudy’s, not Gueros. Guero’s is sub-par Tex-Mex in the right location. My favorite on Trudy’s menu is the stuffed avocado. If you want to sip a cocktail while you’re dining, they’re known for their Mexican Martini. Splurge a little and go for the non-house tequila.

If people suggest Hopdoddy for a burger or Homeslice for pizza, they haven’t steered you wrong.

Good food and vacation are like peanut butter and jelly. In the words of  comedian Jim Gaffigan, “Really, that’s all a vacation is… Us eating in a place we’ve never been. ‘Well, why don’t we eat something… then we’ll go and get something to eat. Then we’ll see that thing we’re supposed to see, they’ve probably got a snack bar there, right? After that, we should probably get something to eat, though.

So for that “thing we’re supposed to see,” here’s what I suggest: If you’re into sites and history, visit the Texas State Capitol and the LBJ Presidential Library and Museum. If you like art, visit the Blanton. If you want to cool off, take a dip in Barton Springs. And if you’re up for adventure, try your hand at stand-up paddle boarding on Lady Bird Lake. Explore South Congress for unique shops, and Rainey Street if you’re looking for a drink in a unique locale.

If you need more suggestions, I’d be happy to help; just consider this my version of Eat This, Not That.

Enjoy Austin!

Potato Chip Macarons with Pop Rock Ganache

2 Aug

Earlier this week I began to make this macaron recipe I concocted and unintentionally almost chopped off the top third of my left index finger. Oops! Needless to say, I stepped away from the kitchen. I finally made it back to the grocery store to get some fresh ingredients this morning, just in time to hash out a last minute post. I was too excited about these for a plan B.

Potato Chip Macarons with Pop Rock Ganache **

What You’ll Need:


  • 1 cup finely ground almond flour/meal
  • 1 3/4 cups powdered sugar
  • 1/4 cup finely crushed regular potato chips*
  • Pinch of salt
  • 3 egg whites, room temperature
  • 1/4 cup sugar (Caster is best, granulated will work)


  • 4 ounces semisweet chocolate
  • 1/2 cup cream
  • 1/2 Tablespoon butter
  • 1 package poprocks

*To crush the potato chips, place a handful between two paper towels and roll with a rolling pin. This removes some of the oil from the chips to ensure the macarons get crisp.

1. Sift together the almond flour, powdered sugar, salt and crushed potato chips. Set aside.

2. If you have a macaron silicone mat or are confident in your ability to evenly pipe the batter, skip step 2: Line 2 baking pans with parchment. Using a small round cookie cutter (about 1 1/4 inch) dipped in water and powdered sugar, make a template for piping the macarons.

Potato Chip Macarons with Pop Rock Ganache {}

3. Whip the egg whites with an electric mixer until they form soft peaks. Slowly, while the mixer is still spinning, add the sugar. Mix until stiff peaks are formed, about 3 minutes. Fold in almond flour mixture, 1/3 at a time.

4. Pour the mixture into a piping bag with a large tip. If you do not have an icing bag, you can use a ziploc bag with the corner cut off. Pipe onto your parchment lined cookie sheets.

5. Let sit for 30 minutes to form a crust. Meanwhile, heat up your cream, pour it over your chocolate, let it stand for a minute, stir, and then mix in butter. Chill. Preheat oven to 275 degrees F.

6. Bake your macarons, one pan at a time for 15 minutes. Let cool on pan for 10 minutes, then transfer to wire cooling rack.

7. If the ganache is chilled and thick, mix in the pop rocks. Put into an icing bag and pipe between two macaron cookies.

Potato Chip Macarons with Pop Rock Ganache {}

8. Eat them all! I love the sweet and salty mix.

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