Southern Sides: Scalloped Potatoes

Spring gatherings like Easter and Mother’s Day are on their way, so I am creating a new series of southern inspired side dish recipes that would go well with the traditional holiday ham or your family’s favorite. So whether you just need a single side to share or if you want inspiration for a whole meal these recipes are some of my favorites.

Potatoes are always a well loved side, but bake them in a cream sauce with cheese and you have a holiday worthy crowd pleaser. My husband loves scalloped potatoes so for Valentine’s Day I created these white cheddar potatoes to go with a rosemary steak, but I think they would also pair well with ham or lamb as well. I like baking mine in a large tart or pie plate because the pie shaped wedges make for an easy and elegant way to serve these potatoes.

White Cheddar Scalloped Potatoes –Serves 6 to 8

  • 3 medium russet potatoes, peeled and thinly sliced
  • 1/2 cup (1 medium) shallot diced
  • 4 tablespoons butter
  • 1/4 cup flour
  • 2 cups cream, room temperature
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground pepper
  • 8 oz (2 cups) shredded white cheddar cheese
  • 2 tablespoons chives, finely chopped

Preheat your oven to 375 degrees

Then prepare your potatoes by slicing them thinly. You could use a sharp knife or I use a mandolin which makes it quick to cut even slices. Then finely dice your shallots.

Use caution when slicing on a mandolin and use your food holder at all times!

Next, make your béchamel or cream sauce by melting your butter over medium heat in a large sauce pot or deep skillet. Then once your butter is melted add in your shallots and sauté them until they begin to turn translucent. Then sprinkle in the flour in and whisk it until it is smooth.

The butter and flour are fully whisked together and they have turned a golden color.

Then slowly pour in your cream about 1/4 cup at a time while whisking well. I recommend having your cream sit out a short while because adding cold cream to a hot sauce can make it much harder to whisk your sauce together. Continue adding your cream a little at a time until it is smoothly whisked in.

Then let your cream sauce thicken by continuing to cook it over medium heat for 4 to 5 minutes whisking it occasionally. Season to taste with the salt and pepper.

Here you can see the sauce has thicken. You will know it is thick enough when it will hold a line you draw in it with a spoon for a short time.

Once the sauce has thickened remove it from the heat and start layering your potatoes. I used a 10 1/2 inch diameter tart pan, but you could a pie plate or another Pyrex dish and make similar layers. Spray your pan with cooking spray and make one layer of potatoes on the bottom. I overlapped my slices slightly and place them in overlapping rings that covered the entire base of the pan. Then pour a third of your cream sauce on top and spread it evenly. Then sprinkle on 1/2 cup of your cheese. Repeat this layering process until you have three layers of potatoes and top the final layer with the last third of the sauce and cover the top layer with the last cup of the cheese.

Here are the finished layers before baking.

Cover your dish with aluminum foil and place your dish on a jelly roll pan in case any sauce bubbles during baking. Then bake covered for 1 hour. After an hour take the foil off and continue to bake your potatoes for another 15 to 20 minutes until the cheese and potatoes are gold and bubbly. Then garnish with some chopped chives before serving.

One slice of these tender and cheesy potatoes is worth the time it takes. These cheddar potatoes are a classic comfort food that will definitely have your guests coming back for seconds. These potatoes could even become a main course or a way to use leftover ham. Just finely dice some ham and add that ham to the cheese layers. Add a side salad like this one and your side dish becomes a delicious dinner.

A Bistro In Your Backyard

The warm sun is flickering down through the canopy of trees and the sky is a brilliant blue. The patio and flowers beds are filled with greenery and the navy and white wicker chairs and table feel like a garden bistro. Even if it’s just a folding table set on my patio, these are the moments I am looking forward to as spring is drawing near.

Chicago winters are long and tough on uncovered outdoor furniture, so for our small back patio I decided to go with a folding bistro table set. Easy to store in the garage during the winter snow and ice. It also leaves room, so I can make way for the scooters, bikes and sidewalk chalk murals that happen here too.

Last spring I spotted these navy and white folding bistro chairs at Target and it was love at first sight. They looked like more expensive wicker chair sets, like those at Serena and Lily. However at just a fraction of the price, these chairs were perfect for our yard. They are solid to sit on but they can be easily folded away to make room for my girls to play. I decided to pair them with a folding table I already had and it made for a wonderful garden bistro set.

Larger scale outdoor furniture certainly has it’s place, but if you need a little flexibility or have just a small spot on a patio or porch then a pretty bistro chair set might be just what your yard needs.

Target’s Threshold line has folding wicker chairs in navy and white and gray and white, but Frontgate has their own colorful outdoor line including this capri blue set.

Frontgate Paris Bistro Side Chair 

I also liked these white bistro chairs from Grandinroad. This Claire set is very pretty. The chairs have a great shape to them and it’s hard to go wrong with a classic white. The chairs are light weight and stackable and the table folds so they could easily be stored when needed.

Grandinroad Claire Bistro Table and Chairs

Want add a pop of color to your yard? Then cheek out this small patio set from Home Depot. I love this bright orange, but it also comes in spring green, navy and a turquoise too. They get great reviews online and would work well in a small place or corner of your yard.

Home Depot Home Decorator’s Collection Patio Bistro

Finally if you want to customize the look of your table set then Ballard designs has a classic bistro set. You can add Sunbrella seat cushions in a wide array of colors and patterns to make it your own.

Ballard Design Cafe Three Piece Folding Table

So with spring on it’s way I am already thinking about our garden. It will still be a couple of months before we can enjoy dining outdoors once again, but it will be here soon and I plan on celebrating every moment.

Lemon Madeleines

Crisp and buttery with a delicate center, these shell shaped tea cakes are delicious. There is a reason these light as air cakes are still beloved nearly two hundred years after they first became popular at the palace of Versailles. It’s thought that King Louis XV named these tiny cakes after his father in law’s cook Madeleine Paulmier. So now after getting a madeleine pan for Christmas, I am wondering why it took me so long to discover the joy of baking these little cake like cookies? I have been happily lost in the world of madeleine baking this week. I tested and tried a number of recipes and flavors until I created these lemon and honey madeleine which were my favorite.

There are lots of traditional French recipes that use a Genoese cake with melted or browned butter, but those recipes require more steps and usually call for you to chill your batter for an hour before you bake them in order to ensure that they rise well. However after trying a recipe from the Culinary Institute of America, that used a butter cake technique, where you creamed the butter and sugar. I found I liked that creaming better. The cake is still light and buttery, but you don’t have to chill your batter to get that signature rise. I also tested techniques for greasing my pans and found that using slightly browned butter not only kept the cakes from sticking, but it also gave them a gorgeous golden finish. Cooking spray and greasing and flouring my pans just didn’t produce that same deep golden color. So after all that testing I am sharing my favorite recipe that has elements of all of the best flavors and techniques I tried.

Lemon Madeleines – Makes 24 shells

  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) butter at room temperature, let it sit out of the fridge for 1 hour plus an additional 3 tablespoons of butter to brush your pans
  • 2/3 cup sugar
  • 3 eggs, at room temperature
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla
  • 1 teaspoon honey
  • 1 teaspoon lemon zest
  • 1 tablespoon milk
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 cup flour
  • 3/4 cup of white chocolate chips (optional)
  • Note: You will need a Madeleine Pan but they are easy to find at a kitchen or baking supply store

Preheat your oven to 375 degrees

Then prepare your brown butter to grease your tins. In a small skillet over medium heat melt your butter and then after it starts bubbling keep a close eye on your pan as the milk solids in the butter begin to cook and your butter turns a light golden brown. Then take your golden butter and pour it into a small bowl to stop it from cooking further.

Then using a small basting or pastry brush evenly brush your pan with the browned butter being careful to coat all the ridges in your shells.

Now to make the madeleines, in the large bowl of your mixer cream or beat together your butter and sugar at medium speed for about 2 to 3 minutes. Next add in your eggs one at a time beating them at medium speed until they are incorporated in your butter mixture.

Then add in your vanilla, honey and lemon zest and milk. Finally add in your baking powder, kosher salt and flour at low-speed. Mix just until your flour is just blended in.

Place 1 tablespoon of batter into each greased Madeleine shell.

The batter will spread and fill your shells once they are in the oven.

Then bake your madeleines for 10 to 12 minutes until the edges are golden brown. I found that 11 minutes was just right in my oven. You can take your madeleines out of the pan while they are still warm and if you are like me and only have one madeleine pan then you can wipe out the pan with a paper towel to get the crumbs out and brush them with some additional butter and bake your second batch.

Right out of the oven these cakes taste unbelievably good. You can let them cool a bit and dip them in chocolate or just dust them in powdered sugar.

Then in a small microwave proof bowl melt your chocolate by heating it at 30 second intervals in your microwave and stirring well in-between.

Dip your madeleines in the melted chocolate and then place them on a tray or sheet pan lined with parchment or wax paper.

Let your chocolate set, by placing the madeleines in the fridge for 20 to 30 minutes.

Want to add a little festive touch? Then you could melt 1/3 cup of pink candy melts or color some of your white chocolate with an oil based food coloring (used to color candy)  to pipe and create some little bunny madeleines. These little bunnies were inspired by Kim Joy on the Great British Baking Show. I admire her creativity and my girls absolutely loved these pink bunnies.

So no matter how you decorate these madeleines, they are fun and easy to bake. This recipe may put an American twist on a French classic, but the result is a light and delicious little lemon cake that is would be wonderful with tea or coffee as a sweet treat.

Spaghetti Carbonara

Sometimes it feels like there is always something crazy going on in our house. I had to take a little break from blogging because we had a family wide stomach bug, followed by a little one with a double ear infection. Then to top it all off this weekend our puppy, oblivious to the laws of gravity, took a flying leap towards the coffee table and sadly ended up with a broken leg. So life and cooking have not been normal around our house. Now with my family on the mend, I am sharing one more weeknight meal. Spaghetti Carbonara, my ultimate last minute dinner. Delicious and easy to cook in just 10 minutes. It’s one of my go to dishes when life gets too crazy to cook.

Spaghetti Carbonara (serves 4-6)

  • 1 pound of spaghetti
  • 2 tablespoons of kosher salt
  • 1 (3oz) package of prosciutto, sliced into thin strips
  • 1/3 cup reserved pasta cooking water
  • 4 eggs
  • 1 1/2 cup grated Parmigiano Reggiano
  • ground pepper to taste
  • 1/2 cup frozen peas (optional)

First fill a large stock pot with water and place it on high heat. Add the salt to season the water and bring the water to a boil. Then add your spaghetti and cook it for the time specified on your pasta box as thicknesses and cooking times can vary slightly.

While your spaghetti is cooking slice your prosciutto into bite sized pieces. Then in a medium-sized bowl whisk your eggs together.

These three simple ingredients transform spaghetti into something wonderful.

Then before you drain your pasta take out and reserve 1/3 cup of pasta water. The starchy pasta water will help cook your eggs and create a thicker and more flavorful sauce.  Drain your pasta and then return it to your stock pot, but take the pot off the heat.

Then take about an 1/8 of a cup of your reserved pasta water and whisk it into your eggs so you temper them slightly. This will help keep your eggs from scrambling when you add them to your pasta. Then pour the egg mixture and the remaining pasta water in with your spaghetti and stir them together. Then quickly add in your parmesan cheese. Finally add in your prosciutto and if you want peas. I like to add green peas if I am making a one bowl meal, but if you want a more traditional Spaghetti Carbonara then you can certainly leave them out. Finally season with some freshly cracked pepper.

I love this classic dish because it takes less time to cook then it does to get take out. It’s easy to assemble and uses lots of staples that I tend to have in my fridge and pantry so it’s the perfect meal for a hectic or busy night.

Dreaming of Garden Gates and Spring

Our trees are dressed in crystals that shimmer with a silver glean. The sunlight makes the branches sparkle like tinsel. The ground is covered in bits of crunchy snow now turned to ice. Winter’s icy beauty is still here. However when mid-February comes my heart begins to yearn for spring.

The patio is not as inviting when covered in snow, but the turquoise chairs remind me of glorious summer days to come.

So for now I will do a little garden dreaming of garden gates and sunny days that invite you to come in and stay a while.

The gray quatrefoil detail on this gate I spotted is just perfection. The patinaed hose pot and boxwood hedge leave me wondering what lies beyond the garden gate.

Another gorgeous Mediterranean styled gate with a limestone wall and cascading greenery.

A more traditional home with this majestic garden gate. I love walking by these cherub topped pillars and the garden inside looks just as elegant with breathtaking iron pots, archways and plantings.

This garden gate is flanked with pear espalier trees. The diamond pattern and that archway are a showstopper.

A wooden trellis on this seemingly standard fence makes it anything but ordinary. What a pretty pattern and focal point for a garden.

A Southwestern garden I got to see while traveling this summer. The adobe walls and arched gate frame a colorful mountain garden.

The crane sculptures add a sense of movement and whimsy in this flower garden. An oasis in a rocky mountain landscape.

These vintage styled metal gates and picket fence add to the curb appeal of this Texas hill country home. I can just imagine the pots of cascading flowers that could trim these porch steps in the summertime.

The iron sunflower gate creates a uniquely welcoming entrance to this classic old farmhouse.

Finally one of my favorites, neatly clipped boxwood, planters and silver orb make this small alcove feel like an inviting and elegant garden.

So as the view out my window is still a little cold and gray, I am dreaming and looking forward to the flower filled days to come.

Shortbread Sweeties

Sometimes I daydream about ingredients and these cookies were something I had been dreaming about for a little while. I wanted to use a pretty poured fondant icing, like you use on petit fours, but I wanted it to be simpler. Something that would be much easier to make and share, so then cookies came to mind. However, not any cookie would do. I needed something that would pair well with this sweet icing.  So then shortbread cookies came to mind because they are light, buttery and flakey, but not too sweet. So I set out researching shortbread recipes and then began to pen one of my own.

Then the moment of truth; it was time to get in the kitchen and bake. Sometimes it can take a few rounds before I get everything just right, but these cookies were as amazing as I had imagined. The shortbread was divinely crisp and the pretty pink frosting set beautifully. My girls were in the kitchen with me as we were baking these and they squealed with delight over the pink frosting. They instantly loved them too. Sprinkles were flying everywhere and we were having fun together. They are quick to decorate and you don’t need a pastry bag or any special frosting skills. This poured fondant icing was easy to spread and it creates a beautiful shiny finish that will make you feel like a frosting genius. So as Valentine’s Day nears I thought I would take a quick break from weeknight meals to share this now favorite cookie recipe.

Shortbread Sweeties– Makes approximately 36 three inch heart cookies

  • 2 1/4 cups flour
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) butter, at room temperature for at least 1 hour
  • 1 teaspoons vanilla extract

Poured Fondant Icing

  • 3 1/2 cups powdered sugar
  • 1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon water
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 tablespoons corn syrup
  • 2 drops gel food coloring
  • Sprinkles or colored sanding sugar

First preheat your oven to 375 degrees.

In the large bowl of you mixer combine your flour, sugar and salt. Then cut your butter into small pieces, like you would for pie dough or biscuits. Then add your butter pieces  into your flour mixture and blend on low to start so the flour doesn’t come spilling out.

Then as your butter begins to get cut in your flour increase your mixer speed to medium and add in your vanilla. Continue mixing your dough until it just comes together.

Now roll your dough out on a floured silicone baking mat or use a lightly floured piece of parchment paper. I rolled mine out to 1/4 inch thickness and cut them into three inch heart shapes.

Then I placed them on my baking pans, which I lined with parchment paper. These cookies are flakey and slightly delicate so the parchment paper makes them very easy to handle. It will keep them from sticking to your pan and make them easy to lift up to cool. Bake your cookies for 8 to 10 minutes until the edges begin to turn golden.

Then once your cookies are cool it is time to make your frosting. In a medium sized sauce pan combine your powdered sugar, water, corn syrup and vanilla. Heat them over medium low heat whisking the sugar mixture until it melts and comes together. Then remove your frosting from the heat. Next add in your food coloring. I find it’t easier to control the color if you take a few tablespoons of the white icing out and place them in a small bowl. Then add a drop or two of your desired food coloring.  Once you get this concentrated color add a little of that concentrated icing back to your main mixture until you get the shade you want. Gel food coloring is wonderful but it’s very concentrated so I find it easier to see the true color if I mix it into icings this way.

I hold my cookie over the pan so any excess frosting falls back in the pan.

Then once you get your icing mixed it’s time to frost your cookies. Take your cookie and hold it over your pan and spoon a little icing on top. Then tilt your cookie slightly to allow the icing to evenly cover the top. Once it is covered well the take the edge of a rubber spatula or table knife and push any drips or excess icing off the sides for a smooth finish.

Then immediately add your sprinkles or sanding sugar on top. If you wait then the icing will set and the sprinkles won’t stick. So frost and sprinkle one cookie at a time. Stir your icing from time to time and if it starts to cool in the pan you can heat it slightly on low. I used sprinkles on some and hot pink sanding sugar on others. So get creative with your own decorations. The icing will cool and set on your cookies in about 20 to 30 minutes. Once they are set you can stack them and they keep well at room temperature, which makes them great for sharing.

These dreamy cookies are so delicious that they didn’t last long in our house. The flakey shortbread will melt in your mouth. So if you are looking for something fun to bake this Valentine’s Day these cookies would be wonderful.

Panko and Herb Crusted Salmon

Salmon is full of flavor and it makes a wonderful meal because it cooks so quickly. So for my second recipe in my series on weeknight dinners, I am serving up a panko crusted salmon with a French twist. The salmon is covered in a Dijon mustard and sour cream base. I like the touch of heat from the mustard, but a little sour cream adds a lighter tangy taste that you find in French recipes for creme fraiche baked fish. Then I layered on more flavor and texture by adding garlic butter and herb seasoned bread crumbs. I love adding Herbs de Provence to flavor fish. It is a mix of chervil, basil, rosemary, tarragon, thyme, lavender and marjoram and it complements the Dijon and fish perfectly.

Panko and Herb Crusted Salmon – Serves 4

  • 1 to 1 1/4 pounds of fresh salmon cut into 4 portions
  • 1 cup panko breadcrumbs
  • 3 tablespoons of butter
  • 1/4 teaspoon fresh garlic either pressed or grated on a microplane (about 1 clove)
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1/1/2 teaspoons Herbs de Provence (a spice blend you can find at most grocery stores)
  • 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
  • 1 tablespoon sour cream
  • l lemon for a lemon slice garnish (optional)
  • 1/4 cup fresh flat leaf parsley minced (optional)

First preheat your oven to 375 degrees.

Next in a medium-sized skillet melt your butter and add in your grated or pressed garlic. Sauté your garlic for about a minute using a spoon or rubber spatula to break it up and evenly stir it into your butter. Then add in 1 cup of panko bread crumbs. These Japanese styled bread crumbs have a large irregular texture, which means they stay crispy when baked, but the trick to getting a great golden color when adding them to fish is to sauté them in a little butter before you bake them.

Once you add your bread crumbs in stir them well to coat them in the garlic butter then add in your herbs de Provence and sea salt and toast them just slightly for about 2 minutes till they just ever so slightly pick up a bit of color.

Then in a small bowl or cup mix together your Dijon mustard and sour cream. Cover the tops and sides of your fish portions with mustard mixture keeping the skin side down. Then once they are covered in the mustard mixture take your bread crumbs and sprinkle and press the seasoned crumbs onto the top and sides of the fish.

Then take your salmon portions and place them on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper or foil.

Bake your fish on the center rack so the bread crumbs stay golden. My family likes baked fish to be slightly firm and just baked through which for salmon, that is 1 1/2 inches thick, is about 20 minutes. If you like your fish to be slightly rare and pink in the center then adjust your cooking time to 12 to 15 minutes depending on the thickness of your fish. Then once baked you can sprinkle on some minced parsley and serve with a twist of lemon.

While you fish is cooking you can make a quick cooking side of wild rice (Uncle Ben’s happens to be my favorite).  Then add in a green vegetable like my roasted green beans and shallots which can cook on the top rack of your oven at the same temperature and time or try a salad like my pear and cranberry salad. There you have it a quick cooking weeknight meal that is healthy and full of flavor. Salmon’s smooth and lighter taste makes it a favorite with my daughters and the French flavors keep this dish delicious. Bon appetit!

Parmesan Crusted Chicken Piccata

Dinner is more than a meal in our house. It’s a moment to slow down and connect. It also happens to be my favorite time of the day. Gathered around our little cherry red kitchen dinette set we have shared some amazing tales and meals. Some of my most loved dinners are not always fancy, but they are delicious. So to start off the new year I thought I would share a new series of our family’s favorite weeknight dinner recipes.

I try to plan my meals for the week, but sometimes when I get a little “what’s for dinner?” mind block I start asking for suggestions. My husband’s request is usually chicken piccata. My version of this classic dish has a twist with a crispy parmesan crust. It’s a quick cooking meal that even my little picky eaters like.

Parmesan Crusted Chicken Piccata – Serves 4 to 6

  • 4 to 6 thinly sliced chicken breast cutlets (I buy mine pre-sliced which saves time and I happen to like the Purdue brand)
  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, divided
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon pepper
  • 1/2 cup finely grated fresh parmesan cheese
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 4 tablespoons olive oil, divided
  • 4 tablespoons butter, divided

Lemon Wine Sauce

  • 1 cup white wine (I like to use a chardonnay)
  • 1/4 cup lemon juice (about 2 lemons squeezed)
  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 2 tablespoons capers
  • 1/4 cup of flat leaf parsley finely chopped
  • lemon slices (optional)

First prepare your breading for your chicken in three separate bowls. In one shallow dish or bowl mixed together 1 cup of flour and the salt and pepper.

Then in a second dish whisk together your eggs and milk until well combined.

Then in your last dish mix together 1 cup of finely grated parmesan cheese and your remaining 1/2 cup of flour.

Now you are ready to bread your chicken. I like to use a double breading technique because it ensures that your chicken is going to be crispy and well coated.

My breading bowls all set up. I also like to have a plate ready for my finished pieces of chicken.

Next individually dip your thinly sliced chicken breasts in the flour, then in the egg mixture holding it up to let the excess drip off. Then pat your chicken in the final parmesan breading making sure it is well coated on both sides.

Then let your breaded cutlets rest about five before you pan fry them. This allows the breading to adhere better and makes for a crispier chicken.

In the meanwhile get a large skillet prepared by melting 2 tablespoons of butter with 2 tablespoons of olive oil on medium heat. When your butter is melted add your chicken in two batches and cook on medium to medium high heat for about 2 to 3 minutes on each side until your chicken is golden brown. Use a fork to turn your chicken because tongs can be tough on breading. Before you add your second batch of chicken add another 2 tablespoons of butter and olive oil to your pan.

The thinly sliced chicken is great because it cooks quickly. So keep a close eye on it when the chicken turns golden brown it’s time to flip it.

Then remove your chicken from the pan and add in your white wine. Let it reduce down by half and then add in your lemon juice. Next turn down your heat to medium low and whisk in your butter one tablespoon at a time. Finally stir in your capers and your sauce is done.

The lemon white wine pan sauce. Make sure you scrape up all the good little bits in the pan when you add the wine, because they make a great sauce.

Now you are ready to serve your chicken simply spoon a generous amount of the lemon wine sauce onto each piece of chicken and sprinkle with chopped parsley. I like to serve my chicken piccata with a side of pasta and a side salad or some quick cooking parmesan roasted asparagus.

So if you too have ever had the what’s for dinner mind freeze, then I have just the recipe for you. These chicken cutlets cook quickly so this whole meal takes less than thirty minutes to make. The crispy parmesan chicken tastes like gourmet chicken nuggets, which is great because my girls will happily eat it. So now you know why this chicken piccata is such a favorite in our house.

Celebrating Maison McCauley’s Second Anniversary

“One day you will look back and see all along you were blooming.”

Morgan Harper Nichols

This week, I am celebrating the second anniversary of my blog Maison McCauley. Writing this blog began as a way for me to find meaning and joy in the sea of change that followed my family’s unexpected move to Chicago. Even good changes can have hard moments because in order to move on you have to say goodbye to the way things were. I had to leave my job of nearly nine years as an assistant district attorney. Most days I loved my job, but years of long hours and tough cases began to take their toll on my family, so deep down I knew this move meant I needed to step back and slow down.

When I was a new attorney working hard to make my way up in the felony courts I had an older attorney friend pull me aside one day. She said, “Don’t take this the wrong way, but you know if you left your job tomorrow the office would still run and there would be a new person to take your place. So don’t forget to take care of yourself.” I understood what she meant because in those words was an even more important and nagging question: what were the things that really mattered? Was I sharing the best of my talents and what I had to give or was I somehow just settling? Could I be brave and do something different?

When we moved I talked about finding good in this change by spending more time with my daughters and doing what I loved most: writing, cooking and creating. So I decided I would start writing to share with others. Starting something new and sharing my work on a blog felt a little scary at first. Doubt would creep in and keep me from starting with questions like: What would other people think? Would they even like it? My husband was the one who finally challenged me to sit down and just write. The words began to come and a small seed was planted. Good things take time to grow and I had to begin somewhere.

Now two years into this adventure I am grateful for this opportunity to see life differently. Who knew how much joy there could be getting a great photograph of a cupcake or a bowl of Texas chili? So thank you my dear readers for following along with me. Thank you for your encouraging words, your comments and text messages and for allowing me to share what I truly love with you.

So in looking back and celebrating the past year I am sharing  the top recipes from the blog this year:

The all time top recipe on my site are these Carrot Cake Cupcakes. They have a little more spice than your traditional carrot cake but it makes all the difference. Top them off with cream cheese icing and some candied carrot curls and you have one amazing cupcake.

The second most popular recipe this years was for Jo Jo’s biscuits. They have been a favorite recipe on the blog this year bring new readers to Maison McCauley.

The third most popular recipe is a crockpot recipe I created for a Rosemary Braised Beef With Parmesan Polenta. It’s easy to assemble but the depth of flavor makes it a standout dish.

My personal favorite from this year was this Heavenly Angel Food Cake. It’s light sweet and absolutely delicious.

And because a girl cannot survive on cake alone my favorite savory dish is for this Herbed Goat Cheese Chicken. It’s one of my all time most loved recipes for entertaining because you can have it all assembled ahead of time and pop it in the oven just before your guests arrive.

Thanks for helping me bloom and for being a part of the growth of my blog this past year. I am looking forward to the coming year and all the creative possibilities it holds.

A Buttercream Butterfly Garden

We are not ones to let a little thing called January get in the way of celebrating and imagining some summer birthday fun. Each year when the first frost comes the flowers in our garden seem to fade and disappear overnight. This always makes my oldest daughter a little sad because she loves being outside. So in honor of my flower loving girl’s birthday we decided to turn our dining room into a colorful butterfly garden. I started by adding some bright flowers to add to our table. The vibrant orange roses, pink carnations and purple freesia looked like a happy summer garden. In keeping with the garden theme I used a ceramic pot as the base for this pretty arrangment.

We had just returned home from traveling so I had picked up some paper butterflies I had gotten earlier from paper source and my girls and I had fun decorating our dining room. My daughter’s birthday is so close to Christmas that I changed up our our existing holiday decorations just a bit. Even the garlands and chandelier got a touch of summer with these pretty patterened butterflies.

Then one of the best parts about birthdays in our house is the cake. Since I was a little short on time to bake and I wanted to have some fun outside of the kitchen too, we decided to go with cupcakes.

My daughter loves chocolate cake and if you want to make your own you can find the recipe for our favorite cupcakes here. This year the birthday girl herself wanted to decorate the cupcakes. So we tried out a new set of icing tips I had gotten for making buttercream flowers. I helped get the icing ready, but then my now six year old had fun pipping some flowers. These new tips were surprisingly easy to use and my daughter was quite pleased that she could make her own. Now that we are six I am finding that she wants to do everything herself. Then as a final touch I added some edible paper butterflies from a company called Sugar Robot. I love these butterflies and I have used them on other cakes. They are an easy way to add a little color and whimsy to any cake.

Then we placed them in a scalloped window box (really a wooden shelf turned upside down) and our buttercream garden was complete. We had breakfast for dinner, my daughter’s favorite followed by cupcakes with lots of frosting, which is defiantly the best part of baking.

At each celebration and milestone my husband and I always give each other a knowing look and think how truly lucky and blessed we are to have such wonderful daughters. We had a long journey to build a family, but moments like this make us grateful. What fun we had celebrating the day and we are looking forward to all the the great things that being six brings.