Ina’s (and Beatty’s) Chocolate Cake

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I feel like the world is made up of cake people and non-cake people, and then within the “cake people” category there are chocolate cake people and… other kinds of cake people? I’m not a huge cake person, nor really a chocolate person, so I certainly can’t claim to be a chocolate cake person.  I do, however, aspire to be a good hostess, so when we were having a big family birthday party for my brother-in-law last month and half an hour before people were scheduled to arrive I realized there was no dessert, I sought to rectify the situation. My brother-in-law is very much a cake person, and specifically, very much a chocolate cake person. So I did a quick google search for chocolate cake and this was the first recipe to pop up.  Since Ina would never steer me wrong, and since miraculously I had all ingredients on hand, I quickly whipped up the batter, greased and floured two round pans (the fact that I not only had all the ingredients but two matching round cake pans tells me that the chocolate cake gods were really on my side this particular evening), and slid the cake into the oven right as the guests were arriving.  And as it turned out, it was a huge hit with cake people and non-cake people alike, which I took to mean that it belongs on B&B (where as I’ve said before, we do things mainly for the accolades).

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For some reason, I read the name of the cake that night when I was a bit frazzled and just assumed it was named after Warren Beatty. So for a time I was calling it Warren Beatty’s Chocolate Cake, which makes no sense. As it turns out, in the episode where she introduces the recipe, Ina is making the cake for her friend Michael and is using his grandmother’s recipe – Beatty is Michael’s grandmother’s name. (Pronounced Betty. But you can understand my confusion). I just thought I should share that before we go any further, so that you don’t make the same mistake.

When I made this the first time, I used a vanilla buttercream frosting rather than the chocolate frosting Grandma Beatty uses (if there’s one thing I know about my brother-in-law, it’s that he loves chocolate cake with white frosting). When I made it again for another family birthday last week, I used Grandma Beatty’s version, to compare.  Both were delicious, although I will say (as a non-chocolate person), you definitely want some vanilla ice cream with the chocolate/chocolate version (and to be fair, even with the chocolate/vanilla I still wanted ice cream – possibly due to the fact that I’m more of an ice cream person than a cake person). Also, the chocolate frosting calls for a raw egg yolk – you could omit it without sacrificing too much, but if you follow the recipe as is just be mindful when serving to pregnant women or little kids.

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Since this is an Ina-approved recipe, it’s basically perfect as written, no need for me to give you any tips. I will say, DO use parchment as instructed – I didn’t the first time and had a hard time getting my cakes out of the pans; I used it the second time and they popped right out and then the parchment peeled right off (shown below, as I was pretty proud of myself). Ina doesn’t have you do a crumb layer, which I did just because I had the time and it always makes me feel like a real baker. If you have time (and freezer space), spread a very thin layer of frosting over the top and sides of the cake and then pop it in the freezer for 20 minutes or so. Then when you finish icing it you won’t have any bothersome crumbs messing up your beautiful frosting job. And along those lines, my final note is to consider investing in an offest spatula – I took a cupcake decorating class at Williams-Sonoma a few years ago and the instructor practically forced us all to buy one, but I’ve used mine probably 100 times since. They really make icing any kind of cake or cupcake (sometimes even cookie) so much easier, and make your final product look so much better.  Because like I said, we’re in it for the accolades. And because cake person or not, everyone needs a beautifully-frosted Grandma Beatty’s Chocolate Cake in their repertoire.

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One Year Ago: Crunchy Cabbage Salad with Peanut Ginger Dressing 
Two Years Ago: My All-Time Favorite Chocolate Chip Cookies

Cakes, previously: Pops, Pumpkin, Rum, Berry Bundt (I think this is the first basic cake recipe for B&B – only took two and a half years!)

Beatty’s Chocolate Cake, from Barefoot Contessa

For the cake: 

Butter, for greasing pans
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for greasing pans
2 cups sugar
3/4 cups good cocoa powder
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup buttermilk, shaken
1/2 cup vegetable oil
2 extra-large eggs, at room temperature
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 cup freshly brewed hot coffee

For the frosting: 

6 ounces good semi-sweet chocolate, such as Callebaut
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 extra-large egg yolk, at room temperature
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 1/4 cups sifted powdered sugar
1 tablespoon instant espresso powder

To make cake: 

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Butter two 8″ x 2″ round cake pans. Line with parchment paper, then butter and flour the pans. Sift the flour, sugar, cocoa, baking soda, baking powder, and salt into the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment and mix on low speed until combined. In another bowl, combine the buttermilk, oil, eggs, and vanilla. With the mixer on low speed, slowly add the wet ingredients to the dry. With mixer still on low, add the coffee and stir just to combine, scraping the bottom of the bowl with a rubber spatula. Pour the batter into the prepared pans and bake for 35 to 40 minutes, until a cake tester comes out clean. Cool in the pans for 30 minutes, then turn them out onto a cooling rack and cool completely.

To make frosting: 

Chop the chocolate and place it in a heat-proof bowl set over a pan of simmering water. Stir until just melted and set aside until cooled to room temperature. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat the butter on medium-high speed until light yellow and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add the egg yolk and vanilla and continue beating for 3 minutes. Turn the mixer to low, gradually add the confectioners’ sugar, then beat at medium speed, scraping down the bowl as necessary, until smooth and creamy. Dissolve the coffee powder in 2 teaspoons of the hottest tap water. On low speed, add the chocolate and coffee to the butter mixture and mix until blended. Don’t whip!

To assemble cake: 

Place 1 layer, flat side up, on a flat plate or cake pedestal. With a knife or offset spatula, spread the top with frosting. Place the second layer on top, rounded side up, and spread the frosting evenly on the top and sides of the cake.

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Mac and Cheese, Part One

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This post was originally supposed to be called “Mac and Cheese, Three Ways” – but it was getting so long that I cut it in half (stay tuned for Part Two tomorrow).  My sister and her husband had their first baby a couple months ago, and while I tried really hard to come up with some creative ideas for freezer meals, I had a difficult time getting past everyone’s favorite comfort food. So I decided if I couldn’t be original, I would be excessive instead: I stocked their freezer with, among other things, three different macaroni and cheese casseroles for the first few post baby months (they may have only lasted a few weeks). Number three was the one I was most excited about (more on that tomorrow), but I decided to start with a Barefoot Contessa classic. (Coincidentally, Ina’s new cookbook comes out today – it’s called “Make It Ahead” – and while I’m pretty excited about it, I’m not sure that there’s a better make ahead recipe than this mac and cheese).

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Much like last week’s lasagna, I’m not sure that macaroni and cheese is fancy enough to warrant it’s own blog post. However, up until a couple years ago, my grandmother was the only person I knew of who made mac and cheese that wasn’t from a box (that list has now expanded to my grandmother, my friend Lindsay, and myself).  So I’m posting this relatively basic recipe in the hopes of inspiring those of you who haven’t yet realized how easy and delicious homemade mac and cheese can be.  Don’t be intimidated by the béchamel – it used to really scare me, but it’s so easy. SImply melt your butter, add some flour, pour in the milk, and whisk whisk whisk.  It will take a few minutes to thicken up, but once it does you’ll feel like Julia Child. Add salt and pepper, and nutmeg to taste – I usually add whatever the recipe calls for (because I’m a rule follower), but I know a lot of people don’t care for nutmeg in a dish like this so feel free to use less or none at all.

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Add the cheese to the béchamel while it’s still hot and let it melt.  (If I could only give you one tip for making this recipe, it would be to buy your gruyère at Trader Joe’s – it’s literally half the price of any other store. A second tip would be to use Tillamook extra sharp for your cheddar, yum.)  Combine pasta and sauce and scrape into your prepared baking dish. See, it’s really so simple. And so delicious – you’ll never make mac and cheese from a box again. Not that you ever did.

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Ina wants you to make homemade bread crumbs – which are super easy, but I often don’t have bread on hand so I like to use good store bought breadcrumbs or panko. I like to toast mine on the stovetop beforehand (with a little olive oil or butter), but it’s not a necessary step by any means.  If you want to make your breadcrumbs from scratch, cut the crusts off of five slices of bread (or a hunk of baguette) and process in the food processor until the pieces are the size of small crumbs (duh).  Mix the crumbs with melted butter and then sprinkle on top of the casserole before baking.  Casserole can be prepared ahead of time and then baked before serving, or baked and frozen for tired moms and dads to defrost and reheat as necessary.

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One year ago: Crunchy Baked Pasta with Sausage (or Squash) and Greens

Mac and Cheese, previously: Melissa Clark’s Carroty Mac and Cheese

Barefoot Contessa’s Mac and Cheese, from Barefoot Contessa Family Style

Ingredients:

Kosher salt
Olive oil
1 lb. elbow macaroni or cavatappi
1 quart milk (4 cups)
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, divided
1/2 cup all purpose flour
12 ounces gruyère, grated (4 cups)
8 ounces extra-sharp cheddar, grated (2 cups)
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg (or less, to taste)
4 small tomatoes, sliced (optional – I skipped this step)
1 1/2 cups breadcrumbs, fresh (5 slices bread, crusts removed) or store bought breadcrumbs or panko

To Make:

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Drizzle olive oil into a large pot of boiling salted water. Add pasta and cook according to package directions (on the shorter side if they give you a range; you want the noodles al dente as they’ll continue to cook in the oven). Drain well.

Meanwhile, heat the milk in a small saucepan (don’t let it come to a boil). Melt 6 tablespoons of butter in a large (4 quart) pot and add the flour. Cook over low heat for 2 minutes, whisking constantly. While whisking, add hot milk (slowly) and cook for a minute or two more, until thickened and smooth. Off the heat, add the gruyère, cheddar, one tablespoon salt, pepper, and nutmeg. Add the cooked macaroni and stir well. Pour into a 3-quart baking dish. Arrange sliced tomatoes on top of pasta (if using). Melt the remaining 2 tablespoons butter, combine with the fresh bread crumbs, and sprinkle on top (I like to melt the butter in a frying pan, add panko breadcrumbs, and toast before topping the casserole with them). Bake for 30-35 minutes, or until sauce is bubbling and casserole is browned on top.  

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Roasted Tomato Basil Soup

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Well, we’ve been into fall for three whole days now – can you believe my restraint in not posting 100 pumpkin recipes already? We’re still in that in-between stage, weather wise, but even though it’s not quite soup season, it’s still tomato season and I have a lot of tomatoes to use up.  We’re now twenty months into this blog and this is my tenth soup recipe – far and away my biggest “category.” But really, can you think of a better one-pot meal to get you through the cold and rainy months looming on the horizon?  My barista told me this morning he’s been waiting for the rain for the past five months – by February I’ll deny saying this, but I’m kind of with him, and this soup is one of the main reasons why.

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I thought I had found my favorite tomato soup many years ago – it’s easy, it’s (relatively) healthy, it lets me use up all of the tomatoes I have coming out my ears in August, and it’s from the Barefoot Contessa so you know it’s delicious.  But after making it a couple dozen times over the past month or so, I thought I would mix things up and look for a couple new recipes. And what do you suppose I found? Another Barefoot Contessa option.  It’s not radically different from the first one, but she roasts the tomatoes before adding them to the soup and it really deepens the tomato flavor.  And it calls for white onions rather than red, which means you can use the bags of pre-chopped onions from Trader Joe’s (I’ll do almost anything to avoid chopping onions). Ina never disappoints.

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Roasting is a great way to use up any tomatoes you may have leftover from your summer harvest – simply roast them with oiive oil, salt and pepper, freeze them (with their juices), and then use them for soup all winter long.  And once you run out of frozen tomatoes, roasting the not-so-delicious varieties that they sell at the supermarket in January will make them taste (almost) as good as your home grown ones. I think the basil also makes this soup extra yummy – it calls for sixteen times the amount of basil that the other soup does (sixteen times!! I did this math a couple times just to make sure that’s correct). I initially thought maybe the “four cups” was a typo – but it’s not and it’s amazing. You don’t even have to chop it, just pull the leaves from the stems and dump them in. Don’t skimp on the basil if you can help it (I did a full four cups the first time I made this and it was delicious, and then I was a little short the second time and while of course it was still yummy, I wished I had made the effort to go back to the store and get another bag).

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Add a can of tomatoes (San Marzano is ideal), a box of chicken stock (veggie stock or water to make it vegetarian), the basil and thyme, and then dump in the roasted tomatoes – including all the oil and juices that accumulated in the pan. Simmer for 40 minutes or so and then blend – you don’t even have to add cream (put the calories you save towards your grilled cheese). Ina tells you to use a food mill, but I don’t have one so I use my immersion blender. I suspect a Vitamix would work great as well, or a regular blender or food processor. This soup will freeze nicely – so I would suggest making a double batch, some for now and some for later. You’ll thank me the next time it’s nasty outside and you’re craving a grilled cheese and tomato soup (per the forecast, next week). Happy soup season!

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One year ago: pumpkin chocolate chip cookies and pumpkin granola 

Soup, previously: white bean and kale, split pea, cream of fresh tomato, pumpkin black bean, curried butternut squash, cauliflower leek, minestrone, roasted sweet potato and apple, red lentil

Roasted Tomato and Basil Soup, from The Barefoot Contessa

Yield: 6-8 servings

3 lbs ripe tomatoes (Ina suggests plum), sliced in half
1/4 cup + 2 tablespoons gold olive oil
1 tablespoon kosher salt
1 1/2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
2 cups yellow onions, chopped (1 large/2 small)
6 garlic cloves, minced
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1 28-ounce can plum tomatoes, with juices
4 cups fresh basil leaves, packed
1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves
1 quart chicken stock or water

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees F. Toss the tomatoes with 1/4 cup olive oil, salt, and pepper. Spread mixture in one layer on a baking sheet and roast for 45 minutes.

In a large dutch oven or soup pot, heat butter and two tablespoons olive oil over medium heat. Sauté the onions, garlic, and red pepper flakes for 10 minutes, until the onions start to brown. Add the canned tomatoes, basil, thyme, and chicken stock. Add the roasted tomatoes, including the liquid on the baking sheet. Bring to a boil and simmer uncovered for 40 minutes. Pass through a food mill fitted with the coarsest blade or purée with an immersion blender (or in vitamix) until smooth.

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Barefoot Contessa’s Cream of Fresh Tomato Soup

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So I know we’re still at least a month too early for soup season, but since August is the height of tomato season I figured now is as good a time as any to share this recipe. I was first introduced to this soup by my friend Lindsay, so I need to give her some credit for it. When we were roommates in college, I used to cook more than Linds – and even for a number of years after college, her cupboards/freezer usually consisted of cheerios, red and black licorice, and lean cuisines (and the fridge was usually empty – I think she ate her cheerios dry). Once she got married, remodeled her kitchen, and stocked said kitchen with all sorts of registry loot, however, she turned into this amazing gourmet cook. Coupled with the fact that she has a much more adventurous palate than I do, this means I can always count on her for some fun new recipes. And ever since she introduced me to this soup, I’ve had multiple requests (and repeat requests) for it from pretty much anyone who tries it.

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I picked these tomatoes from my parents’ backyard – they’re literally ripening faster than they can eat them/give them away (what I would give for a full sun deck to grow my own!!). Everything else you can get at Trader Joe’s. Tomatoes go in seeds and skins and all – you don’t even have to peel the carrots.

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The best part about a puréed soup is that you don’t have to worry too much about dicing your veggies too perfectly – just give them a rough chop and toss them in the pot.

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Ina would love it if we all used homemade chicken stock, all the time, but that usually doesn’t happen (read: never happens) for me.

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Such a tiny bit of cream (I use half and half), it hardly counts. And who doesn’t love an immersion blender?!? Vitamix also works great here.

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In a perfect world, this soup would be topped with prettier homemade crostini – but Dave’s killer bread is so much better for us than baguette, right? Any homemade crouton or crostini really does make for a yummy topping, though – at least until its actually soup season, and we can just eat it with a grilled cheese sandwich.

Cream of Fresh Tomato Soup, from the Barefoot Contessa

Serves Six

3 tablespoons good olive oil
1 1/2 cups chopped red onion (1 large/2 small)
2 carrots, unpeeled and chopped
1 tablespoon minced garlic (approx. 3 cloves)
4 lbs vine-ripened tomatoes, coarsely chopped (approx. 5 large tomatoes)
1 1/2 teaspoons sugar
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1/4 cup packed chopped fresh basil, plus julienned basil leaves for garnish
3 cups chicken stock, preferably homemade
1 tablespoon kosher salt
2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
3/4 cup heavy cream
Croutons or crostini, for garnish

Heat the oil in a large, heavy-bottomed pot or Dutch oven over medium-low heat. Add the onions and carrots and sauté for about 10 minutes, until very tender. Add the garlic and cook for one minute longer. Add the tomatoes, sugar, tomato paste, basil, chicken stock, salt and pepper and stir well. Bring the soup to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer, uncovered, for 30-40 minutes.

Add the cream to the soup, and then process through a food mill (Ina’s suggestion) or purée with an immersion blender (I do it this way since I don’t have a food mill, and it turns out just fine – you could use a blender or a food processor as well if you don’t have an immersion blender).

Serve hot, with julienned basil leaves and croutons/crostini.  Enjoy!!

A “Comfort Food” Themed Meal: Chicken Pot Pie and Old Fashioned Chocolate Pudding

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I should begin this post by telling you all that I don’t actually eat these pot pies. One of the best things about cooking really unhealthy things is that you have much less interest in eating them after you see how much butter is used. But the people that eat them don’t know, so they can enjoy their meal, and you can feel good about making them happy (and salvaging your own arteries at the same time).

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My grandparents are both 93 years old (they’ll be 93 and a half in a couple weeks!!), and as it’s getting to be more and more work for my grandma to prepare meals, whenever I’m in town I try to make a couple things for their freezer. Last fall, as I was putting together some soups and casserole-type dishes that I thought would freeze well, I asked my grandpa if there was anything in particular he would like me to make. I’ll never forget his response – it was as though he had literally been waiting a full 93 years for someone to ask him that very question.  Without skipping a beat: “I’d like an old-fashioned chicken pot pie, the kind with the lard in the crust like my mother used to make.” (Very emphatic about the lard). It seemed like a reasonable enough request, and I had recently seen an episode of the Barefoot Contessa’s show on the Food Network where she made them, so I had a place to start. I looked up her recipe and saw that the crust did indeed call for Crisco – yum.  Three stores later – Pier One for the perfect-sized ramekins, New Seasons for an organic, free range chicken, and Trader Joe’s for everything else – I was back in the kitchen and ready to get to work. The fact that they turned out to be such a big hit is both good news and bad news – good news, obviously, because if you go to that much work you want people to really LOVE what you’ve made; bad news because now I feel like I need to constantly have their freezer stocked with pot pies. If I haven’t been down to see my grandparents in a while, I’ll often get a lovely card from my grandpa, casually mentioning that it’s been a while since they’ve seen me, and boy, they sure do enjoy those pot pies. He’ll usually include a check – not for groceries, just because. No pressure or anything.

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This recipe really isn’t hard – it’s a bit time consuming, but I take shortcuts by buying the pre-chopped onions (honestly, what did people do before Trader Joe’s?) and rotisserie chicken. That means the only prep work you really have to do is chopping and blanching the carrots (a mildly annoying but apparently necessary step), cubing the chicken and then chopping up a bit of parsley. I love just opening the bags of frozen peas and pearl onions and dumping them all in the pot. You could use store-bought pie crust for a real time saver, but this crust comes together pretty easily, especially if you have a food processor. Without the food processor, however, a pastry blender (the little handheld one you can get for $10) works just fine.

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I recently tried to mix it up a little (and skip the crust altogether) by trying this recipe from Joy the Baker. While it received good reviews, it was made pretty clear that going forward people would prefer the original. I love Joy but I guess it’s pretty hard to beat Ina. I do love the casserole idea though if you needed to feed a large crowd – whether you use Ina’s filling recipe or Joy’s. And don’t the chive biscuits look so pretty? My dad was a fan of the biscuit topping, so when I made the Barefoot Contessa version for the millionth time this past weekend I did half with the crust like usual, and then threw together a quick batch of these biscuits and topped a couple of the pot pies with them instead. The best part is now we have unbaked biscuits in the freezer for the next time we need topping for a pot pie, or strawberry shortcake. (It is worth noting that Ina’s recipe says it makes four pot pies, but depending on the size of your ramekins it will actually make double to triple that amount – this time mine filled five normal sized ramekins and four of what I call the “hungry man” sized, giant ones – but there’s usually only enough pie crust for about 6.  So you can double the crust recipe, or do some with biscuit topping). I usually bake and then freeze them, but I’m pretty sure you could freeze them assembled but unbaked – it takes so long to defrost and then reheat them in the oven, you may as well defrost and then bake.

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And since this weekend was so rainy and miserable – and going with my theme of comfort (or 70s-era) food – I whipped up some chocolate pudding too. I love Cup of Jo’s blog and her “best of” series – once anyone calls anything the “best _____” I pretty much have to make it (even if, as in the case of chocolate pudding, it isn’t something I would think to make otherwise). This really did only take 8 ingredients (plus toppings), most of which you probably already have in your fridge/pantry.  It was so simple and easy, I might now be really into making pudding (which is pretty much the last thing I need to start doing).

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If anyone has any freezer-friendly ideas, for grandparents or otherwise (I’m bringing dinner to some “new parents” tomorrow), please feel free to share in the comments. And if you’re all of the sudden craving a pot pie after reading this, I won’t judge you – every once in awhile I think you’re allowed to splurge. And the closer you are to 93, the more often!

Friday Faves

Happy (Good) Friday! I hope everyone had a fabulous week. It’s been in the 60s (SIXTIES!!) in Seattle this week, so it feels like spring is finally here. Between that and the upcoming Easter holiday, please forgive the fact that all of this week’s favorites are pastels and Easter themed. I bought myself a new Easter dress and some new Easter shoes (best part of the holiday! It’s as though I’m six years old) and am so excited for a gorgeous weekend full of celebrations – religious and otherwise.

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Way too much fun using my Easter pastels and spring brights as vases after I went a little crazy at the market.

I’m making mini strawberry tarts for my cousin’s baby shower tomorrow…..it’s not really strawberry season yet but we’re so close!

Le Panier is a French bakery in Pike Place Market….I took a little break from work the other day and found myself wandering through the market, and then somehow in line for macaroons. One of these days I’m going to teach myself how to make them, but in the meantime these are pretty perfect.

I was talked into these Joe’s jeans last week by my 93 year old grandmother, who informed me that “pistachio” is the color for spring. $69.99 at TJ Maxx, score!!

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I couldn’t decide between my go-to favorite cupcake recipe (recipe here, boxed version here), or this much healthier – but also Easter-y – carrot muffin (recipe here). So I made both – something for everyone! (Note: the carrot muffins aren’t your typical “cupcake disguised as a muffin” muffin – they are very much a muffin. And although the coconut whip is yummy, I actually prefer them without it).

I hope you all have a wonderful weekend, and that the Easter Bunny is good to you! xoxo