Christmas 2011

For the last 15 years (at least – I think it’s more like 17 or 18 years now), instead of exchanging gifts, we’ve enjoyed a family brunch at a nice hotel or restaurant. Most of those years, we’ve gone to the Four Seasons in Austin. They have a wonderful brunch for Christmas morning and they treat us so well, we go annually without question now.

Round 1, I’m obviously not a food stylist.

Round 2 was sushi and I ate it before I realized I hadn’t photographed it. They had several rolls that were doused in some spicy sauce they could/should have left on the side. It burned our mouths!

Round 3 was from the carving station. OMG, this was SO delicious but I was getting full and needed to save room for dessert that I only ate half of this lamb. The mashed potatoes were PERFECTLY smooth and buttery!! The halibut was good but not quite the flavor I was hoping for, especially paired with the lamb and mashed potatoes.

Round 4 – DESSERTS! Have I mentioned that stressed spelled backwards is desserts? This is why:

There was plenty more to choose from in all categories as well. I just couldn’t fit it all on the plates or in my stomach! I keep saying that I need to take photos of the entire buffet but that just seems too odd. I think I get enough strange looks taking pictures of my plates of food. Maybe next year – we already have our reservation!

We weren’t in Trio this year since we made our reservations too late but we were able to get a table by the window and this was our view. Nice and peaceful!

While we were there, there was some excitement on Lake Austin (I just can’t call it whatever else they’ve named it now) – a party boat caught on fire and its 3 propane tanks exploded. It was all over the news for at least 2 days after so it was HUGE news in Austin. The explosion was so big, it popped open those doors in the last pictures at least 3 inches. After brunch, we walked around outside a bit and the boat was still on fire and adrift:

We were glad to hear that no one was hurt. Property loss sucks (see “The Fire” post) but I couldn’t imagine what it would be like to loose a loved one. I still have no idea how that boat fire got started. I’m sure if they’ve figured it out, it was listed as “old news” so they either didn’t report it or reported it is as an after thought and no one caught it on the news.

The Four Seasons always does such a beautiful job of decorating, too. They always have gingerbread houses and this year, the theme was Texas History or Significant Buildings in Texas or something like that.

Some of the buildings are for sale. Who would have thought I could buy the Capitol Building for less than I bought my house for?

It’s a little blurry but I love how ornate they make their lobby:

Love my parents!

Merry Christmas from the Benfords!!

Winter Greens and Fresh Tomato Soup

Right now, my parents are staying in an apartment while their house is being repaired from the recent fire (more on that in its own post) and cable/internet haven’t been connected yet so we get about 5 different PBS stations and a few other local ones and that’s it. As I was lounging on my air mattress one afternoon, I caught an episode of The Victory Garden and they cooked this soup that sounded really good so I decided to make my own version of it that night.

You can add in sausage or meat or thicken it up and make it more like a chili if you’d like but it’s quite hearty and delicious! I decided to add leeks and white beans.

Basic ingredients:
1 onion
1 clove of garlic
Collard Greens
Variety of small tomatoes

1. Chop garlic and onion and saute in oil:

2. Wash (first run) green veggies. There will be a lot of dirt on it all so you’ll want to wash them a few times.

3. Cut greens and leeks into large pieces and wash again. I filled my salad spinner with cold water and let the veggies just soak after rinsing them through the colander a few times.

4. I carefully removed the colander from the water – there’s LOTS of dirt still in that water, even after rinsing several times. Those greens hold in a lot of dirt!

5. I wilted greens and leeks in the pot with the onions and garlic (oops forgot to take a picture) then added the broth and white beans (drained) and let it all simmer.

6. While that was simmering, I cut a few of the larger tomatoes. Aren’t they beautiful? They’re delicious, too!

7. When everything was nice and warm, I added the tomatoes and gave it a minute or two to heat them up as well.

8. Final product!

It was really good. I didn’t add any spices or seasonings (not even salt or pepper) and it was just perfect! That’s the nice thing about cooking with high quality, fresh products – they all have their own distinct flavors that don’t need a lot of other spices. Enjoy!

Love you, mean it!

Quick salad dressing

I got it from a sampling of a kale salad I tasted at Whole Foods quite a while back. This dressing really made that salad POP! 🙂 This is to taste:

Lemon Juice
Olive Oil
Red Pepper Flakes
Sea Salt

I think I substituted Kosher salt for the sea salt. Or, maybe THAT’S why I have sea salt in my spice cabinet….

Chef Antonia Lofaso’s Braised Pot Roast with Kale and White Beans

Ever watch Top Chef? This is All Stars season and Chef Antonia Lofaso is one of my favorites. I was so very excited when they announced she’d be on All Stars and to see that she’s done so well. I’ve recently started following her on Twitter and this is her latest twoted recipe (yes, twoted is past tense of tweet, as defined by Twitter creators).

Antonia is great on Top Chef.Braised Pot Roast with Kale and White Beans
6 lb pot roast
1 carrot
1 stem celery
1 yellow onion
fresh thyme
3 bunches kale
1 can white beans
1 bulb garlic
chicken base/bouillon
tomato paste

Season brisket generously with salt and pepper and sear in a deep pot until golden brown on all sides. Chop carrots, celery and onion. Add veg (mirepoix) to pot and continue to brown, add 1 TBS tomato paste, the thyme and bloom (cook for just a bit to open its flavor), cover with chicken base or water cover pot. Bake at 375 for about 3.5 hrs, strain and allow to rest.

Rough cut and clean kale, chop 2 cloves garlic, in deep pot heat 1 tsp olive oil. Add kale and season with salt and pepper, sautee uncovered for 5 min, then cover and braise with garlic for 10 minutes, add bean and serve.

I may just have to try this recipe today!

Oprah & Moscow Mules

I’m learning a lot by watching Season 25: Oprah Behind the Scenes on the OWN. For example, Oprah’s favorite new drink is the Moscow Mule. It contains:

Lime Juice
Ginger Beer

Oprah says you can squeeze the limes with your teeth if you don’t have a juicer. AND, Oprah drinks like Martha Stewart. That’s awesome!

Love you, mean it!

Crock Pot Pinto Beans

Brad grew up eating pinto beans and rice. When we moved in together, he asked me to make some with him but he didn’t really remember how his mom made them. So, we called her, got the gist of how she made it and added our own twist. Each time we make it, it’s a little different from the time before. This is how I’m making them today:

Basic Ingredients to think about –

  • Pinto Beans
  • Cooking liquid (proportion of liquid to beans is 3 to 1)
  • Salt
  • Seasonings of you choice

Today, I used –

  • 4 Cups Pinto Beans
  • 8 Cups Water
  • 4 Cups Beer
  • Salt
  • Garlic Powder
  • Bay Leaf
  • Tony Chachere’s Creole Seasoning
  • 1/2 Ring Dried Beef Sausage
  • 1/2 Yellow Onion


I started by putting the liquid and seasonings in my crock pot.
Put the liquid & seasonings in crock pot.

I then washed the pinto beans and made sure to pick out all the stuff that won’t cook well (including looking for pebbles).
Wash the pinto beans. Stuff that won't cook well. No pebbles today!

Cut up the dried beef sausage into small pieces.
Dried Beef Sausage Ring Cut into small pieces.

Cut 1/2 an onion into small pieces.
1/2 a yellow onion. Small pieces of onion going in the crock pot.

I put the crock pot on high and I’ll let it cook until it’s ready. I’ll stir is every couple of hours but I’ve read that every time you open the lid of your crock pot, it takes 20 minutes for it to regain the heat it lost so I have to remember to be patient. Hopefully, it’ll be done by dinner time.

Right before we eat, I’ll make some rice in my rice cooker. I’ll try to remember to take and post a pic of the final product.

Love you, mean it!

What does that recipe need???

I realized the recipes I blog about don’t start with an ingredient list and if you’re trying the recipe for the first time, that can make it hard to get started. I apologize and plan to go back and add an ingredient list to the beginning of each recipe I’ve blogged about that doesn’t have one.