Pumpkin Brulee Cheesecake from FoodNetwork.com

The angels start to sing when people get together over Thanksgiving pie…at least I imagine them singing “hallelujah.” Especially when this season’s pies are the homiest, and most satisfying, somewhat like that rush of good feeling that comes from being warmed by a crackling fire on a cold day. There’s always room for dessert.

This past week, my children and I had a pie baking marathon with my mom and best friend. FoodNetwork.com has the most delectable dessert recipes for Thanksgiving. We gave several FoodNetwork.com pies a try but the one everyone gave an “hallelujah” to was the Pumpkin Brulee Cheesecake.

My husband’s favorite dessert is cheesecake. When I told him that his daughter helped make a Pumpkin Brulee Cheesecake, he sounded as excited as a little boy. Thanksgiving pies do that to us…make us feel like kids hovering over the dessert table just waiting for a slice.

My daughter’s smile says it all. She was just dying to stick her finger into the warm, gooey pie. My favorite pies are the smooth and creamy ones that you add whip cream too. The Pumpkin Brulee Cheesecake was just that…heavenly “hallelujah” good.

We had a grand time making our marathon FoodNetwork.com pies! It’s beginning to feel a lot like Thanksgiving. See our pie making in action here.

Wishing you fun in the kitchen baking with your family…maybe you’ll say “hallelujah” to a FoodNetwork.com pie too!

Happy Thanksgiving! xx

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Not so tricky treats from FoodNetwork.com

My little goblins gobbled up Halloween treats from FoodNetwork.com so fast it was spooky! Little helping hands in the kitchen make the meal taste that much better…especially when the Halloween menu consists of ghostinishot dog mummies and vampire blood tomato soup.   

At our house, we try to celebrate Halloween the whole month of October. The best parts are when the kids can participate and love what they’re making. You can’t go wrong with tomato soup, but when it becomes vampire tomato soup, it just has more of a bite!

These ghostinis couldn’t have been easier for my daughter to make. Plus, cookie cutters make everything taste better.

My little boy loved this spooky version of one of his favorite snacks, pigs in a blanket. When I told him he was making hot dog mummies he was ready to wrap up the dogs and couldn’t wait to eat them.

The spirit of Halloween can be felt in our tummies. These FoodNetwork.com recipes for kids helped to set the mood and brought many smiles with each bite.  

 The Halloween season is alive with color and some not so tricky treats to be enjoyed by the whole family. 

Wishing you a very happy Halloween full of good things to eat. Find more ideas from FoodNetwork.com in their Halloween Section.   

Food Network posts you may have missed:

Spooktacular Food Network Halloween Recipes

Trick or Treat! Give me something good to eat! It’s that time of year when we scare up delicious Halloween treats for ghouls and boys. Whether you’re hosting a Halloween party or just baking with your children, you’ll find the most spooktacular recipe to make at Food Network. The Spooky Halloween Recipes for Kids will give you and your children creative ideas.  

My little ghoul enjoyed making these Ghastly Meringues

Wishing you much enjoyment making spooktacular Halloween recipes. Find more ideas from Food Network in their Halloween Section.   

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Summer Cocktails inspired by Greta Garbo, Grace Kelly and Romy Schneider


There’s nothing like a cocktail to kick back and relax at the end of the day. I love these movie star inspired cocktails…just in time for summer.

Glamorous Greta Garbo’s 1930 movie, Anna Christie, has one of her most famous lines. She sulks into a bar, plops down and says, “Gimme a whisky with ginger ale on the side and don’t be stingy baby.” You can see Greta in action here.

Greta has a cocktail named after her (not with whisky). The crème de menthe in this Garbo cocktail gives it a cool refreshing taste that’s just right for summer.

The Garbo Cocktail:

  • 1oz brandy
  • 1 oz dry vermouth
  • 1 oz orange juice
  • 1/4 oz grenadine
  • dash of white crème de menthe

Pour ingredients into a cocktail shaker with ice cubes. Shake well. Strain into a chilled highball glass.

The beautiful Grace Kelly has a cocktail named after her too. How very suiting that it has Champagne and roses in it. I love this scene from High Society with Frank Sinatra and Grace Kelly drinking Champagne.
Cocktail Grace:

  • Rose petal jelly
  • 1 teaspoon rose liqueur
  • 1 glass of very cold Champagne
Spread some rose petal jelly on the inside of a frozen Champagne glass then pour in the rose liqueur. Top off with Champagne.

Another stunning movie star was Romy Schneider. This scene from Cesar et Rosalie is the quintessential summer cocktail idea. I imagine Romy is drinking an Aperol Spritz because it’s one of the lightest alcoholic drinks and that makes it perfect for the beach. An Aperol Spritz is an Italian cocktail that may have been created during the Austrian occupation of Italy. It’s popular in Italy, Austria and Switzerland. The Aperol Spritz is cool, sparkling and bitter with an orange flavor (I see the oranges behind Romy).

Aperol Spritz (for a Romy-style beach picnic):

  • 3 parts Prosecco
  • 2 parts Aperol
  • dash of soda
  • slice of orange
Add ice and a slice of orange. Pour in Prosecco, the Aperol and soda.
Summer is the time for relaxing with a cool cocktail. Try making plans to enjoy some time during the season by cooling off with a special cocktail and an old movie. Cheers! xx

Shamrock’s and Shepherd’s Pie…Ten things to do before St. Patrick’s Day!

Top Ten Irish “must do” list for St. Patrick’s Day

  1. breakfast: The proper Irish breakfast includes bacon, sausage, fried eggs, mushrooms, and tea.
  2. eat: Have a picnic and soak in the sun for lunch then enjoy shepherd’s pie for dinner. 
  3. wear: AG jeans are soft, vibrant and hug you in all the right places. These jeans are in a color called Shamrock…how perfect is that?    
  4. send a card: Be sure to find the perfect Irish greeting to send to your parents and friends. 
  5. find a parade: Family friendly parades are not hard to find. I like that the Dallas St. Patrick’s Day is making an effort to focus more on the family. 
  6. Irish beer: You must drink Irish beer for  St. Patrick’s Day. Find one or try several. I like the Rogue.
  7. Irish-style cocktails: How does a green sangria sound? I think I could drink it all spring and summer long.
  8. quotes: There are so many Irish blessings and sayings but my all time favorite is this one: May the road rise to meet you, may the wind be always at your back, may the sun shine warm upon your face, the rains fall soft upon your fields and, until we meet again, may God hold you in the palm of his hand. You can find many more in a former post I wrote here
  9. movie: There are three fantastic Irish movies to enjoy in honor of the Emerald Isle. Watch the Commitments, Once and Waking Ned Divine
  10. linens: These clover Piccadilly linens are perfect for a St. Patrick’s Day picnic.

May you always walk in sunshine. May you never want for more. May Irish angels rest their wings right beside your door.

Family fun…what it’s all about! Happy St. Patrick’s Day!! xx

Little Sous Chefs

LAST weekend when my husband told our children that we were going to be making pizza, it sounded something like this, “YESSSS! I wanna help. Where’s my apron? Can I pull up a chair to stand on? Can I snack on the cheese? I wanna put on the green olives!” 

The house was buzzing with excitement and we had not even begun to prep. 

My husband, Derek, is our pizza maker, we are his sous chefs. 

Derek has adapted a pizza dough recipe from Julia Child after I personally consulted Bobby Flay. It’s in the water and the cheese. You can read about the pizza conversation I had with Bobby here

Cooley Family Pizza Dough for two 16 inch disks

The yeast mixture:

1 package dry-active yeast

1 C tepid water

1/8 t sugar

Additions to the yeast mixture

¼ C cold milk

¼ C olive  oil

The dry ingredients:

3 C flour

1 ½ t salt

Whisk the yeast ingredients in a measure and let bubble up five minutes. Measure dry ingredients into a kitchen aid stand mixer with the dough hook and mix until the dough forms a ball. Let it rest five minutes and knead by hand. Then let the dough rise in a covered bowl until doubled in bulk (about 1 ½ hours). If you are not ready to bake, punch the dough down and set the covered bowl in a cooler place where it will keep safely for an hour or more. 

For the sauce, we like to use: 1 can crushed tomato, 2 T oregano, 2 T thyme, 1 crushed garlic clove, heavy pinch of red pepper flakes and drizzle the top with 1 T olive oil for cheese (mozzarella, Monterey Jack, and provolone) to brown. Oven should be preheated to 500 degrees. It takes approximately ten minutes per pizza. You must watch it! When the cheese is brown, the pizza is ready. (Let your kids have fun with the toppings).

If you think cooking with two children is fun, imagine one-hundred-twenty children. I had the pleasure of choreographing a science lab “dance” to go along with our lesson of how matter changes. We made muffins and created an irreversible change. 

I honestly think my own two children were louder than the one-hundred-twenty second graders because I said, “I’m only picking the most quiet children to help cook.” They all really wanted to crack the eggs! Children love to break, squeeze and cut things…they’re not afraid to get messy.

I notice with both my children and all the second graders that when they are responsible for preparing the meal, their five senses are more aware and they better appreciate the food because they helped to make it. All the more reason that children should be involved in the kitchen. 

Mrs. Cooley’s Banana Muffins

3 C flour

1 t baking soda (mixed with 4 T sour cream)

1 t salt

½ t baking powder

½ t cinnamon

½ t nutmeg

2 C sugar

1C vegetable oil

3 eggs

1 T vanilla

4 ripe bananas, mashed

Line muffin cups with paper liners. Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Whisk dry ingredients: flour, baking powder, cinnamon, and nutmeg in a large bowl. In a separate bowl mix wet ingredients: start with sour cream mixed with baking soda, add three eggs and sugar, oil, and vanilla then fold in mashed bananas. Use an ice cream scoop to evenly divide batter in muffin cups. Bake on the middle rack until the tops are golden brown and a toothpick tester comes out clean (about 20 minutes). Transfer to a rack to cool.

Cooking with children is a lot like choreographing a dance. The choreographer has to be quick and interesting so they don’t lose a child’s attention.

My friend Craig Alderson, from Cooking with Class, is a chef and a dad, has the perfect and hilarious example of why you need to be quick in the kitchen with children. 

“There was this one time when I had my daughter Hannah, who was two at the time, on the kitchen counter one morning helping daddy cook. We were making eggs in the skillet, and we had a can of powdered carpet cleaner nearby. It was vanilla scented. She picked it up and shook all over the eggs thinking she was seasoning them! Smelled awful! We joke about till this day.”

Be brave, be patient and have fun cooking with your children. Whether it is a cooking success or mishap, the experience makes for great lessons and the memories are priceless! When you share the kitchen with your children, cooking is even more of a pleasure.  

A Taste of Vienna


Austria is beyond rich in history. This little landlocked country has gone from being the grand Habsburg Empire to being nonaligned. Vienna was left with little to rule as the Great Depression swept the Nazis to power. Austria’s neutrality in 1955 led to better days but the past is still hauntingly present.

Our book club recently selected Daniel Silva’s, A Death in Vienna and to match the Austrian theme we ate at Jorg’s Café Vienna. My friend Margot is Austrian and it was through her that our little book club became a history lesson that we could taste.

On a cold October day a hearty Austrian meal hit the spot. Think…Traditional goulash, Gurkensalat (cucumber salad), Wienerschnitzel with red cabbage and spatzle on the side. It made for very happy stomaches. This was all found not in Austria but Plano, Texas at Jorg’s Cafe Vienna.  

Nestled in between quaint antique shops in charming “old” Plano you can find Jorg’s Café Vienna where our book club enjoyed a taste of Austria. The atmosphere is warm and cozy with an accordion player encouraging an involuntary body sway to the oompah sounds as the friendly waiter brings another round of Austrian beer.  

After eating hearty warm Austrian cuisine the belly is full but the waiter kindly asks, “How about some homemade bread pudding with Austrian rum”…you simply must say, “ja bitte!” Then when the waiter comes back with shots of jagermeister, you smile and say “prost!” Once again the belly is happy.

Jorg’s Café Vienna reminded me of an Italian Osteria where the dishes are rustic, not fancy and you feel a communal experience with the biergarten style seating and home style food and service. The Austrian “guesthouse” type restaurant is very family friendly and full of babies that all look like they’ve been raised on sausages. Reading “Jorg’s menu tells you that many of the recipes are old family dishes from his Mutti and Oma. When you taste Jorg’s food, you taste old world Austria and the love that went into the preparation (today and decades ago).

As soon as Margot sat down at Jorg’s restaurant, Jorg saw her and with such exciting intensity beckoned her to come meet his wife. The three of them became instant family. They share something that only expats can understand…a connection with their first home.

Many expats who live abroad can be found in restaurants like Jorg’s because there’s something about being there that reminds them of their home. The food, music and nostalgic atmosphere can link them together.

I have often thought that my Austrian friend seems to have two hearts…divided by countries. Expats have unbreakable bonds with friends and family in both places but they are torn between their old and new homes. So much of who we are is based on where we are.

Talking about Daniel Silva’s A Death in Vienna (the third book in a series) stirred up many feelings. There are characters in the book that would rather ignore that the Holocaust ever happened. It’s a thought provoking story that conjures up many emotions about the sensitive subject, the Holocaust and those who helped the Nazis escape punishment.

Gabriel Allon has the cover of an Italian art restorer, but is an Israeli assassin. He is not anxious to go back to the city of Vienna where his wife and son were victims of a car bomb. Gabriel learns that a man named Max Klein may have had something to do with the bombing. Klein was a Jewish violinist in the Auschwitz camp orchestra and remembers a Nazi named Erich Radek who killed camp prisoners. Gabriel is on a quest to find him as he remembers his mother.

History shapes and molds us all. Enjoyment of literature like the book A Death in Vienna is certainly a good way to raise awareness and heighten sensitivities about how the history of an “old country” like Austria has contributed to the personas of its citizens. Notwithstanding the benefits of literature however, actually hearing, seeing and tasting culture as we did at Jorg’s Café Vienna was truly a delightful educational awakening.


Happy 100 Julia Child: Our Lady of Butter

Julia Child will forever be the queen of cuisine. Her joie de vivre, charm, personality, voice, quick wit and confidence make for an excellent role model for all ages. August 15th marked the centenary of her birth. There are many ways to celebrate Julia Child because she left such an incredible legacy and truly savored all of her ninety-two years of life. Simply remembering her will make you smile. Here are a few ways to celebrate Julia’s 100th birthday.

Read: Two new book releases about Julia Child, Dearie: The Remarkable Life of Julia Child and Bon Appetit! The Delicious Life of Julia Child. Both books coincide with Julia’s 100th birthday celebrating her life and capturing her larger than life spirit.

Reading Jessie Hartland’s charming new children’s book, Bon Appetit! The Delicious Life of Julia Child you will see the illustrations and little scribble notes are child-like and joyful. I’m so excited to be able to introduce Julia to my children through a bedtime story. It’s sure to inspire children to try new foods and find their own talent. 

Another new Julia book is Dearie: The Remarkable Life of Julia Child by Bob Spitz. This book captures Julia’s joie de vivre. Reading it we see what a fearless, funny and confident woman she was.

These two new books are a wonderful birthday present to Julia on the centennial commemoration of her birth.

Two more absolute must reads are As Always, Julia and My Life in France.

Sip: Julia’s favorite drink, Angosoda:

6 oz Perrier Sparkling Water
dash Angostura Bitters
lime slice

Pour Perrier into an icy glass and top with a dash of Angostura Bitters. Garnish with a slice of lime and say cheers to Julia!

Eat: Everyone should make Julia’s boeuf bourguingnon every now and then. It makes your home smell like a Parisian cafe and fills the people that you love with contentment and comfort. On Julia’s birthday, I made her boeuf bourguingnon. It’s the middle of August and hotter than Hatties but after watching her make it on the PBS reruns of The French Chef, I simply had to make it! 

See: Julia’s Cambridge, Massachusetts kitchen that was relocated to the first floor of the Smithsonian National Museum of American History in Washington, D. C.  If you can’t see it in person, you can still view it here through the Smithsonian’s virtual museum.

Watch and Listen: You know those movies you pull out when you need to relax? These are my go tos for feel good entertainment. I gave my mom Julia’s The French Chef collection for Christmas one year and it has brought many happy memories back. Julie and Julia is a wonderful book and movie but the soundtrack is equally as delicious. Try cooking while listening to Margaret Whiting sing Time after Time and you will feel like Julia is cooking with you. 

Flash back to hilarious clips of Dan Aykroyd As Julia Child, watch her appearance on David Letterman, and PBS celebrates her birthday with a remix.

Buy: Julia has an app! You can download Julia Child on your ipad or nook be able to download 32 selected recipes from Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking. It is such a joy to hear Judith Jones (Julia Child’s editor) tell stories about her friend. You can also see clips from The Way We Cook, videos, photographs, quotes and grocery lists.

Quote: Words of Wisdom from Julia:

Remember, No one’s more important than people! In other words, friendship is the most important thing–not career or housework, or one’s fatigue–and it needs to be tended and nurtured.

Find something you’re passionate about and keep tremendously interested in it.

This is my invariable advice to people: Learn how to cook- try new recipes, learn from your mistakes, be fearless, and above all have fun!

Jennifer Reese’s: Make the Bread, Buy the Butter



I always look forward to the companionship of my book club friends to eat, drink and be merry while discussing our latest read. My friend Leslee suggested the most recent literary effort, Make the Bread, Buy the Butter and it seemed to be perfect for our book club (The Julia Child Book Club). Our book club is lighthearted and fun and is the kind of group that (as our latest party favor says) reads the wine labels! While this is only half true we did all enjoy Jennifer Reese’s Make the Bread, Buy the Butter, which is so much more than a cookbook.

My mom hosted and I’m sure the author Jennifer Reese would have loved it based on these words in the book; “Entertaining is exactly the right word for having people over. The dinner party is a work of theater, and the linens and candlesticks and ice bucket are props and they are every bit as important as the food.” My mom is a theatrical genius…flowers in the chandeliers, candle sticks a mile long, place cards with hilarious sayings that truly fit each guest.

Reese’s idea for the book came about after she had been laid off from her job during the economic crises a few years ago. She decided to begin experimenting by making most everything herself instead of buying it at the grocery store. She compiled her success and failures in a book that organizes 120 recipes for the reader to decide: should you make it or buy it? How much hassle is it? What is the cost comparison to buying it in the grocery store?

She writes about raising chickens, ducks, turkeys, goats, and even bees. About having chickens, she writes, “I’ve come to believe that having chickens is like having foxy teenager daughters. Trouble will find you.”

She says about vanilla ice cream, “The difference between even a premium brand of ice cream and homemade is the difference between the poly-blend sheets you inherited from your grandmother and Pratesi linens. I know vanilla ice cream sounds boring, buy homemade vanilla ice cream is nothing like Edy’s. For a sublime variation, try substituting ½ cup honey for ½ cup of the sugar.” I couldn’t wait to try this and…Reese was right, sublime!

Her storytelling is hilarious and entertaining. It reminds me of Julia Child’s commentary in her cookbooks…laugh out loud funny, giving stories about the trial and errors in the kitchen.

Make the Bread, Buy the Butter is exactly the essence of the book. With a little imagination, we may have found some decision making guidance applicable to choices we all have to make about which of our efforts are worth more of our time. It was thought provoking.

Homemade yogurt: bring on the pleasure

Yogurt is the perfect food to have at any time of the day. It is not only delicious but yogurt helps to make people of all ages strong and healthy.

I enjoy using yogurt in multiple ways…in smoothies, in children’s lunches, in crepes, for dips, snacking…  

Eating yogurt is so good for you. Yogurt is a “super food” with its high calcium, protein and B vitamins. It restores your good bacteria levels and its healthy “probiotics” have the power to protect you in so many ways. Yogurt promotes a healthy digestive and immune system; it relieves cramps, controls cravings…

The best way to enjoy these health benefits is to make your own fresh yogurt. Homemade yogurt is richer and thicker and fresher than anything you can buy at the grocery store.

If I buy yogurt, I buy Greek yogurt. I love Fage. It is just the way I love my yogurt…plain, thick and creamy like a pudding with a sweetener on the side.

European yogurt is not as sweet as American yogurt. Americans like a lot of sugar. I like to make my yogurt plain and then sweeten it with honey or maple syrup.

I think that it’s important for children to develop a taste without the heavy sugar. When I’m not making my own yogurt, I like to buy Stonyfield’s yobaby and yokids yogurts for my children because it’s thick, wholesome and organic. I love the fact that it is made without artificial flavors, colors and sweeteners. Stonyfield just came out with a greek yogurt for kids that tastes a lot like the yogurt I make at home. My children also love Yoplait GoGurt; the squeeze tubes are easily portable for their lunch boxes and it’s a perfect freezer treat. As long as they love yogurt, I am happy!

Making yogurt is a science of precise measurement of temperature and time. I enjoy making yogurt on the weekends, I find it satisfying and rewarding. My children love to help by creating just the right toppings. It’s fun for them to experiment and find their favorite yogurt recipe (it usually involves strawberries).You do not have to have a yogurt machine to make it but it sure makes it easy and neat with the perfect size container. Everyone enjoys watching the yogurt set on the kitchen counter.

So, it’s very good for you, it’s fun to make, delicious to eat, a teaching/learning opportunity for your children (including the lesson about having the “patience” to wait for something as the yogurt takes its time to set) and finally, knowing that you have done all these things brings on the pleasure that comes from going to the trouble to do something that makes you feel good.

Ashley’s recipe for yogurt

4 C of whole milk

Either ½ C of store bought yogurt or homemade yogurt from a previous batch (you can also use a package starter with a little powdered milk). You can add more powdered milk to produce a richer yogurt

In a large saucepan over medium heat the milk to 170 degrees. The milk should look like it’s on the verge of a boil. Remove from heat and let cool to 110 degrees then stir in ½ C of plain yogurt to act as your starter. This will set the yogurt. Pour the yogurt into individual jars turn on your yogurt machine and let it stay warm as the yogurt gets firmer (about five hours).  Cover the cups and place them in the refrigerator until well chilled for at least two hours.