I unpacked all my Christmas decorations for this shoot for the Feliz Navidad Magazine in October and then packed them back into their boxes.  Now I'm left feeling late to the party as I've only now set them all out again
The house is once again all glitter and sparkle and I'm gearing up for the festivities - not to mention all the baking/cooking that is yet to be done for Christmas Eve and Christmas Brunch.  Pardon the slight blur to these images.  I moved them over from a PDF and it didn't work as well as I thought it might.

Empanaditas are a favorite to serve during the holidays in the southwest.  I'll be making these pork and apple ones again along with a chicken/apple/cheese recipe:

Chicken & Apple Empanaditas


1 1/2 cups diced cooked chicken
2 granny smith apples
   peeled and chopped
1 teaspoon thyme
1 tablespoon butter
1/2 red onion - chopped
1 garlic clove - minced
1/2 cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese
salt and pepper

your favorite pie dough

Pre-heat oven to 400 degrees F

Fry apple, garlic and onion in the butter until soft.  Add thyme, salt and pepper and chicken.  Allow
to cool slightly and mix in the cheddar.

Roll out the pie dough and cut circles with a biscuit cutter or glass.

Place about a tablespoon of filling on each circle and seal the edges with egg wash.  Use a fork to
press down the seal.

Brush with egg wash and bake for about 25 minutes or until golden brown.

About 15 empanaditas

Wishing everyone joyous holidays!



A beautiful and easy cake to prepare, its colors and flavors are reminiscent of Arab influence in Sicily.  I like to serve it on my hand painted Franco Mari plates.  I lugged them back in my carry on from Siena, Italy.

Raisin Pistachio Cake

2/3 cup golden raisins
1/3 cup Marsala
5 tablespoons unsalted butter, plus more for the pan
2 cups unbleached flour, plus more to coat the baking pan
1/2 cup sugar
1/3 cup finely ground unsalted pistachios
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon table salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 cup whole milk
2 large eggs, beaten well
Confectioners' sugar for dusting

Preheat the oven to 350 Degrees F

In a small bowl, plump the raisins in the Marsala for at least 10 minutes.  Generously butter the bottom and sides of an 8-inch round cake pan; dust with flour.

In a medium bowl, whisk together 2 cups flour, the sugar, ground pistachios, baking powder, cinnamon and salt.

Melt 5 tablespoons butter over low heat.  combine it in a small bowl with the milk and eggs.  Drain the raisins, combining the remaining Marsala with the liquid ingredients.  Mix the raisins with a little of the flour mixture.

Add the liquid ingredients to the flour mixture, and mix briefly but thoroughly with a plastic spatula.  Add the raisins and mix just until well distributed.  Scrape the batter into the prepared cake pan and smooth the top.

Bake for 30 minutes, or until the top is lightly browned and a tester inserted in the center comes out clean.

Cool on a rack and, while the cake is still warm dust it with confectioners' sugar.

Serve with zabaglione or whipped sweetened cream.  The cake can also stand on it's own and is especially good with a cup of cardamom coffee.

A friend of mine recently moved to Sicily.
I should have made this cake for her
she left.  She was here for a few months - stayed with me 
off and on.
I'll make it again the next time she comes to visit - see how it stacks up.
Everything tastes better 
in Italy.

It has been too hot to do much of anything except hang out at the 
water park with my little sugar boy.

We have such fun

Photography By: Ryannan Bryer de Hickman
Recipes: The Zenchilada


Bibb Lettuce Salad with Okra Croutons & Qamar el-Din

Weeks and weeks of torrential rainfall in May and June turned everything green and lush in the Texas Hill Country.  Now, in July, hardly a drop, with temperatures in the high 90's.  Time for light meals and plenty of salads.  Austin has great resources for "Farm to Market" and "Pick Your Own" gardens.  Great to have, since I didn't plant a vegetable garden this year.

Refreshing drinks are also a must this time of the year.   This Qamar el-Din is a Mediterranean beverage that I like to make now and then.

Qamar el-Din

One 12 oz sheet of apricot leather
3-4 cups water
2 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoon orange flower water
1-2 tablespoons rose water

Cut the apricot leather into small pieces, place in a pitcher or bowl, and soak overnight in the water.  Next morning, transfer the contents to a blender and process until smooth.  Strain it into a pitcher, add the remaining ingredients, and stir.  Adjust the flavorings if needed to your taste, and chill or server over ice.


Photography By: Ryannan Bryer de Hickman
Recipes courtesy of: The Zenchilada



 A little late - but hey - life is busy these days!  Since we have moved back to Texas - it has been non-stop fun.  Largely due to this little guy.

The week before Easter - I was in Round Top at the antiques fair with our oldest daughter, who was on a buying trip.  Loved it!  Also had a chance to run over to Houston for a day.  Will save all that for another post.

Then it was a rush back to Austin for Easter fun.  Saturday found us at the beautiful Horseshoe Bay Resort where there was an Easter Egg Hunt, petting zoo, etc.

Sugar Boy was fast asleep upon arrival and missed the tiny tot egg hunt, but participated in the next one for older kids and scored a few.  It was like a swarm of bees!  I couldn't believe how fast hundreds of eggs disappeared.  They have a gorgeous little golf course at the hotel, where they scatted eggs throughout the nine holes.  

On Easter Sunday, we hosted brunch and hid eggs in the courtyard.

I made a Potato Gallette with Smoked Salmon, Creme Brulee French Toast, Scrambled Eggs w/Goat Cheese and Chives and an Asparagus Tart.

When I was in Houston, I indulged at Indulge, and came home with some bunnies.

The  WS jacquard Easter tablecloth and kiddo bunny apron that I bought on sale after last Easter, came in to play.  As did the marble egg place card holders.

Mimosas - heavy on the OJ - as Jim had a 3:30 tee time in Dallas and Lissa had to be at the airport in Austin to fly back to Scottsdale at 3:00.  Busy Day!

Later, after things had quieted down, we made cookies with Landon.

He started off on task..............

Before long - he was driving his trains through the "snow".
And loading up the cargo cars.  Boys:-)

Potato Galette with Smoked Salmon

6 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 medium russet potatoes
1/4 teaspoon coarse salt
freshly ground pepper
3 tablespoons cream cheese
3 tablespoons creme fraiche (or sour cream)
5 ounces sliced smoked salmon
2 teaspoons chopped fresh chives

1.  Melt butter in a saucepan over low heat.  Remove from heat; let solids sink to bottom.  Skim foam.
Carefully pour off clarified butter, discarding solids.

2.  Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Slice potatoes a little less than 1/8 inch thick and lay on a kitchen towel.  Heat a large ovenproof skillet (preferable cast-iron) over medium-heat.  Add 2 tablespoons clarified butter; swirl to coat.  Arrange some potatoes in concentric circles.  Season with 1.4 teaspoon salt and some freshly ground pepper to coat.  Repeat with remaining potatoes to form 2 more layers.  Pour 3 tablespoons clarifies butter down sides of skillet to seep under potatoes.  Brush underside of a medium heavy skillet with remaining clarified butter; set over potatoes as a cover.  Reduce heat to medium.  Cook until underside is golden and crisp, 5 to 7 minutes move.  Flip potatoes using 2 metal spatulas.  Cover with skillet.  cook until potatoes start to brown, about 4 minutes.  Remove top skillet.  Bake until underside is crisp.  7 to 9 minutes.

3.  Remove galette from skillet; transfer to a wire rack.  Let cool for 10 minutes.  Beat cream cheese with creme fraiche until fluffy; spread over potatoes.  Top with salmon.  Sprinkle with chives.  Cut into wedges.

Creme Brulee French Toast

1 large loaf of challah bread
8 large egg yolks
4 cups heavy whipping cream or half-and-half
3/4 cup plus 3 to 4 tablespoons sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup vanilla extract
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

Grease a 2 1/2 quart oven-safe casserole or souffle dish.  Slice the challah into 1/2 inch slices, then into cubes.  In a large bowl, whisk together the egg yolks, cream, 3/4 cup sugar, salt, vanilla, and butter.  Put a quarter of the bread cubes in the casserole dish.  Pour in enough of the cream mixture to cover the bread.  Using a spoon, press the cream mixture into the bread to that it is thoroughly soaked.  Continue layering in the same way until all the bread is soaked with the cream mixture. Cover the casserole tightly with aluminum foil and refrigerate at least 1 hour, or overnight.

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F.  Put the casserole in a larger baking pan and set it in the oven.  Pour enough boiling water into the larger pan to reach halfway up the sides of the casserole.  Bake for 1 1/2 hours, until the top is light brown and set.

Remove the casserole from the oven and sprinkle the 3 to 4 tablespoons sugar over the top in an even layer.  use a broiler set on high or a kitchen torch to cook the topping until the sugar becomes brown and liquefies.  It will harden as it cools.  Serve warm or at room temperature.
Yield - 8 to 10 servings

Photography By : Ryannan Bryer de Hickman


Leek, Potato and Fennel Soup

                                                                                                                                                                              I'm so ready for winter to be over!  This last week has been a rough one with each and all of us coming down with the wretched flu, despite having had our flu shots.  Jim toughed it out and worked right through, while I, just gave in to it.  My daughter and her family have had it as well.  I worry so for my little grandson, but he, like the rest of us, has turned the corner and is now feeling better.  

One last bit of comfort food was in order and lots of Mint, Lemon, Honey and Ginger Tea for the cough that lingers.

The fennel adds a slight anise flavor. 

Leek, Potato and Fennel Soup

Serves 4

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
4 leeks, tender white parts with a little green only, thinly sliced, washed throughly
1 fennel bulb, cored and thinly sliced
2 cloves garlic, crushed
2 large potatoes, peeled and chopped into small dice
2 cups chicken or vegetable stock
Salt to taste
1/2 cup heavy cream (optional)

Heat the oil in a heavy-bottomed pot over medium heat.  add the sliced leeks, fennel and garlic along with a generous pinch of salt.  Cook without browning, just until the vegetables soften.

Turn the heat up to medium-high, add the potatoes, and stir.  Add the stock, and bring it up to a boil.  Turn down the heat again, and let the soup simmer for about 30 minutes, until the vegetables are all very soft.

Let the soup cool until no longer steaming, and then blend the soup using a hand or stand blender until it has a smooth, velvety consistency.  Season generously with salt and pepper and stir in the heavy cream (if using). 

Reheat and ladle the soup into bowls.  

Photos By: Ryannan Bryer de Hickman



 Happy Valentine's Day!  Each year for 18 years, when Jim and I lived in Santa Fe, NM,  Valentine's Day meant a trip down to our favorite chocolatier.  A box of Twin Peaks for him and Bolitos for me.

We left Santa Fe ten years ago, so this year I decided to try my hand at recreating those two treats.  I also made a batch of "Elspeth's Mocha Butter Balls.

The Twin Peaks are made of Caramel, Almonds and Chocolate.  I've never made caramel before, so it was somewhat trial and error.  I started off with Ina Garten's recipe for Fleur de Sel Caramels (left off the salt).  I cooked it a little too long and it turned out like a brick.  The great thing about caramel is that if you get it wrong the first time, you can just melt it again, add a little more butter and cream, and Voila!

 When I finally got the right consistency for the caramel, I spooned it into mini muffin cups, that had been lightly buttered.  I placed the almonds on before I put them in the refrigerator.  While they were cooling, I melted chocolate baking bits in a bain marie.   After the caramels cool in the fridge for a bit, dip just the bottom half in the melted chocolate and put on a cookie sheet lined in parchment paper.  Put them back in the fridge until the chocolate hardens.

 Bolitos are simply truffles or fudge rolled into balls and coated with crushed nuts.  I used this recipe for the truffles and rolled them in crushed pecans.

Elspeth's Mocha Butterballs -  a recipe from a Santa Fe friend.  They are great with a glass of cold milk.

Elspeth's Mocha Butter Balls

1 cup butter
1/2 cup sugar
2 tsp. vanilla
1-3/4 cups flour
1/4 cup cocoa
1 TBS instant coffee
1/2 tsp salt
2 cups chocolate bits

1. Cream butter & sugar
2. Add vanilla
3/  Mix in dry ingredients, Dough will be slightly stiff
4.  Stir in chocolate bits
5.  Roll into 1" balls.  Place on cookie sheet
6.  Bake for 15 minutes in preheated 325 degree oven
7. Fragile when warm.  When cool, sprinkle confectioner's sugar over cookies.

Photography By: Ryannan Bryer de Hickman - Sotto Il Monte