December 2009 Archives

Baking For Others: Overly Obsessive Christmas Cookies

EVENT: The Kenner Family Christmas Party
VENUE: Kate’s Parents’ Apartment, Upper East Side
TYPE: Large-Scale Holiday Dinner Buffet
MENU: Beef Bourguignon; Scalloped Potatoes; Corn Pudding; Roasted Brussels Sprouts; Just Salad Fixings; Lemon Bars; Pecan Bars; Chocolate Fudge; Christmas Cookies; Cranberry Punch; Spiked Cider

The holiday season is an especially busy time for us Quarter-Life Cooks. Among our twenty-something friends, our expertise is in high demand for planning, prepping, and decorating all sorts of festive gatherings. But one particular grown-up event we always look forward to attending is the Kenner holiday party. Last year we were rather delinquent helpers for Kate and her family—Cara had just flown back from Spain and could barely keep her eyes open, and I was busy all afternoon running around the city in a Santa suit. But this year, we were honored to be brought on board early in the process to decide what dishes would make it to the large banquet table for 100 of their closest friends.

As can be imagined, a meal for so many people is quite an impressive undertaking, especially with the high expectation for quality that Kate’s mother, Barb, has upheld for the gathering year after year. Over Indian food sometime in November, Cara and I talked about the menu with Barb and Kate. There was a universal consensus that the famed corn pudding, scalloped potatoes, and spiked cider were must-have staples. Some newer additions: beef bourguignon for the main course, and lemon bars for the dessert spread. And as always, there were to be dozens of decorated Christmas cookies, the centerpiece of the table.

Friday evening, Cara and I showed up at the Kenners’ to offer our helpful hands. We thought, perhaps, the tasks ahead of us might involve browning 30 pounds of beef, peeling a large bag full of potatoes, or juicing lemon upon lemon for the squares, and we came prepared for blisters and exhaustion. Unsurprisingly though, given her all-powerful planning genius, complete with shopping lists from the last ten years, Barb had done almost all the work before we got there. The stew was simmering in the oven, the lemon bars were sitting on a beautiful glass platter, and all that was left for us to do was decorate the Christmas cookies.

Cara was elated by this news, but I, on the other hand, was a little worried. As my baking days have slipped away from me, I’ve become a little rusty when it comes to multiple icing shades, colored sugar, and snowflake shaped sprinkles. Summoning my artistry from 15 years ago, I got to work sprinkling green sugar on my Christmas trees, and haphazardly pasting candy cane morsels on the green shading. Cara looked over at my work, and looked at me with slight disappointment in her eyes. “Maybe try to make them a little fancier?” she said. Horrified by my apparent failure, I ate two cookies and started over.

Little did Cara know: she created a monster. For three hours, I obsessed over my cookies, picking out all the red colored balls to line stripes on my stockings, stringing ornaments in perfect bowing lines on my trees, and striping my candy canes in perfectly measured patches of color. The result was more beautiful than my seven-year-old memories, if involving way more patience and attention than should ever be imparted on a single cookie. Kate, holiday cheer master, was more than pleased with the results, as were we, until she plucked up one of my stockings and took a bite, and I suddenly felt like I had lost my best friend.

From our kitchen, where we’re like obsessive cookie elves, to yours,



Martha’s Icing

Ices about 2 dozen of your favorite sugar cookies

1 egg white
2 cups powdered sugar
a few drops of lemon juice

food coloring
lots of sprinkles

Whisk ingredients together. Separate into bowls and add food coloring to create your desired scheme. Use knifes or offset spatulas for decorating. If you’re ambitious, use icing bags with tips.

Eat Me Daily: Blog-to-Book Deal

Blog-To-Book Deal: Big Girls, Small Kitchen
By Helen Rosner

“Cara Eisenpress and Phoebe Lapine of Big Girls, Small Kitchen have been tapped by Harper Studio to write Cara & Phoebe’s Quarter-Life Kitchen, which Publisher’s Marketplace describes as “the story of two best friends and their sophomore year in the “real world,” told through a series of cooking adventures, homemade recipes, and shared meals.””

Read the full article here.

Working With What You Have: Pink Greens

Pink Greens

DISH: Pink Greens; Arugula and Beet Salad
MAIN INGREDIENTS: Beets and their Greens

I don’t know why, but I always seem to over-estimate how many beets I will need for any given meal that features them. There was certainly no exception when it came to our latest catering gig—I roasted nearly double the number of beets I would need for my relish, and still came away from the baby shower with leftovers of that to add to the beets still sitting in my fridge. Despite the fact that cooking these pink veggies en masse transforms my small kitchen into a bloody crime scene, they are a wonderful accent to any meal, and I never tire of having random zip lock bags of roasted beets stuffed in the corners of my fridge.

After the shower, I not only had the whole beets and relish at my disposal but three bunches of beet greens as well. Tired by my usual garlic and olive oil sauté, I remembered reading an interesting recipe for Beet Greens on Food52 for their Best Way to Cook Greens Contest and decided to give it a try. The “Pink Greens” turned out so well, I ate the entire bowl. Luckily I still had my relish for the next day’s fix of pink & green.

From my kitchen, with just a touch of pink, to yours,



Pink Greens
Makes 2 servings

Marissa Grace’s original recipe called for sherry vinegar. For some reason, this isn’t one of my staple pantry vinegars that I usually have on hand. I substituted just a tablespoon of white vinegar, and rounded out the flavor combination with some lemon juice.

1 bunch beet greens (from 8-10 beets), roughly chopped, most of the stalk removed
2 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flake
2 teaspoons sugar
1 teaspoon olive oil
1 shallot, thinly sliced
1/4 cup water
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon white vinegar
½ lemon juiced

Coat a large sauté pan or Dutch oven with olive oil and sauté the garlic, shallot and red pepper until slightly browned. Add the sugar and salt and stir until just combined. Add the beet greens to the pan, pour the water on and immediately cover.

Do not remove the lid for a few minutes to allow the greens to wilt. Once they have cooked down, remove the lid. Cook for a few more minutes allowing the water to evaporate.

Just before removing pour the vinegar and lemon juice over the greens. Cook for a minute longer, taste for seasoning, and serve.

Arugula and Beet Salad
Makes 2 servings


4oz baby arugula
1 tbsp chopped fresh dill
1 tbsp minced pickled shallot (recipe here)
1 roasted beet, minced (recipe for roasted beets)

In a small bowl, mix together the dill, beet and shallot. Season with salt, add a tablespoon of pickling liquid, and drizzle in a tablespoon or two of olive oil.

Toss the pink mixture together with the arugula, and serve. For a more substantial salad, add a Dill Turkey Burger to the bed of greens.

Recipe Flash: Teriyaki Soba Salad

VEGGIE-CARNIVORE DINNER PARTY MENU: BBQ Chicken Satay; Soy-Sesame Tofu Skewers; Teriyaki-Dressed Soba, served warm; Mixed Greens with Creamy Mango Vinaigrette; Coconut Shortbread

When I turn to tasty soba noodles to offer me some sustenance, I’m more likely than not to dress them with julienned raw veggies and the sesame oil vinaigrette I threw on these rice noodles I made a while back. For a recent mag club, though, I wanted something a little different–but I also wanted something different from the hearty fall dishes like gratins I was starting to feel like I was eating ad nauseum (not literally). So I mixed in the seasonal sweet potato, an untraditional vegetable for a soba salad. I also threw in some edamame, then tied everything together with a simple, quick-to-make teriyaki sauce and some toasted sesame seeds. Served just warm of room temperature, the noodles were slightly unexpected, pleasantly light, and for whatever unknown reason just right next to the sundried tomato paninis Phoebe brought. It must have been some kind of cross-cultural synergy.

From my kitchen, albeit small, to yours,



Teriyaki Soba Salad
Serves 4

1 teaspoon peanut or safflower oil, plus more for roasting the sweet potatoes
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon ginger, minced
1 tablespoon sesame seeds.
1/4 cup + 1 tablespoon soy sauce
3 tablespoons rice wine
1 tablespoon honey
1 large carrot, julienned
1/2 cup frozen, shelled edamame
1 small sweet potato, cut in 3/4-inch dice
1 cup napa cabbage, finely shredded
1 carrot
5 oz soba noodles

Preheat the oven to 400°F.

Toss the sweet potato with a little bit of oil (I used the fabulous Misto sprayer) and lay the cubes out on a baking sheet. Bake for 15 minutes, until nearly soft, then toss with 1 tablespoon of the soy sauce and bake for 5-10 more minutes, until browned and cooked through.

Meanwhile, toast the sesame seeds in an un-oiled pan until fragrant and golden. Set aside.

Saute the garlic and ginger in the 1 teaspoon oil over medium heat for 3-4 minutes. When the garlic is translucent, add the remaining soy sauce, the rice wine, the honey, and 1/3 cup of water. Bring to a boil slowly, simmer for a minute or two, then add the julienned carrots, simmer another minute or two, then add the cabbage and most of the sesame seeds. Continue to cook until the carrots have softened (you don’t want them too limp) and the cabbage has wilted.

While the sauce is cooking, bring a large pot of salted water to the boil. Add the soba noodles, and cook until tender, according to package directions. About 2 minutes before cooking time is complete, add the edamame. Drain both in a colander, reserving about 1/2 cup of the cooking liquid.

Toss the teriyaki sauce with the noodles and edamame and the sweet potatoes, adding some of the cooking water if the noodles seem dry. Taste and add more soy sauce as needed. Serve hot or warm, garnished with the remaining sesame seeds.

Cooking For Others: For a Living

EVENT: Mary’s Baby Shower
VENUE: Rebbecca’s Apartment, Chelsea
TYPE: Afternoon Sit Down Tea
MENU: (Cocktail Fare) Caprese Skewers with Pesto Dipping Sauce; Deviled Eggs; Asparagus in Parmesan Puff Pastry; (Sit Down) Sexy Ugly Caramelized Onion Tarts; Green Apple & Brie Sandwiches with Honey Mustard; Turkey & Beet Relish Sandwiches with Dill Mayonnaise; Mixed Greens with Lemon-Basil Vinaigrette; Zucchini & Walnut Bread; Chocolate Chip Banana Bread; Cherry Scones; Apple Cinnamon Scones; Magnolia Cupcakes

Our friend Jocelyn is lucky enough to have two older sisters who have made her an aunt three times over. We love to hear about her nieces and nephews and see pictures of them–Helena, her sister Rebecca’s daughter, modeled for us as our pretend “love child“–but more importantly for us gals of BGSK, Jocelyn’s sister was the one to grant us our first catering gig two weekends ago.

Rebecca’s friend, Mary, is pregnant with her first child. And since Rebecca is the one who set Mary up with her husband in the first place, she held the baby shower at her loft, co-hosting with Mary’s two sisters. Rebecca had contacted us about cooking for the afternoon tea in October, back when Cara still had her full-time job, and we were really excited to give this fifty-person catering gig a shot, though not as much for the professional opportunity as for the fact that we simply thought it would be fun.

Skip forward a few months, and the catering opportunity, while still seeming fun, also started to feel like a very exciting step on the way to another side of our foodie careers. Of course, Rebecca’s call was not completely out of the blue: Cara did a bunch of catering in college–especially of this type of afternoon tea event–and Phoebe has been hired by parents’ friends to make all the food for their dinner parties.

(thanks to Phoebe’s mom for these very official looking aprons.)
We spent a few weeks developing a catering menu, not specifically for Rebecca, but with plenty of options that would work for her event–afternoon, tea, lots of women. An email chain later, we had whittled the menu down to only the best and the brightest. There were three passed hors d’oeuvres:

the elegant puff pastry-wrapped asparagus with Parmesan,

deviled eggs: a little bit retro,

and caprese skewers with Phoebe’s famous pesto sauce for dipping.
On each table, platters of scones and quickbreads, as well as two kinds of tea sandwiches:

brie, apple & honey-dijon on wheat; turkey, beet relish, dill mayo & arugula on white

In the arms of our trusty servers, Alex and Matt, we passed a caramelized onion tart that was the epitome of teamwork (Cara made the pastry, Phoebe the filling), and a salad with an herb vinaigrette, the epitome of amnesia (don’t ask).

Fortunately (with respect to prep time) and unfortunately (regarding Cara’s baking obsession), Rebecca said she’d be supplying dessert: pink Magnolia cupcakes displayed in an adorable, wire-branched cupcake tree.

The most exciting moment by far was when the guests devoured the platters of sandwiches with an unforeseen gusto and we had to make more and more of them, with a dwindling bread supply and in fast forward. Runner up was when, before we located the oven mitts, we had to remove the asparagus from the oven with our bare hands. Ouch.

Though we swear our muscles were tired the next day, as if catering were some kind of contact sport, we really did have the fun we’d anticipated in October. Without being coy, we’d like to point out that if you ever did have an event and wanted to hire some able-bodied and semi-experienced young caterers to take charge of the food, you could do worse than to think of us. In fact, if you email us, you can see our catering menu for yourself.

From our kitchen, happy from our first professional gig and excited for our next, to yours,



Sexy Ugly Caramelized Onion Tarts

Makes 2 tarts

The dough is made in my mini food processor, so I have to halve the recipe. It means splitting the egg yolk, which is a bit awkward but nonetheless endurable. If you own a bigger processor, by all means make the dough at once. It’s also easy enough to make the pastry by hand.


For the pastry:

2 cups flour
1 3/4 teaspoons salt
2 sticks cold butter
1 egg yolk
4-5 tablespoons cold water

For the onion filling:

3 tablespoons oil
4 – 5 (depending on how prone you are to nibbling) large sweet Vidalia onions, thinly sliced
2 tbsp chopped fresh thyme
1/2 tsp cumin
dash cayenne

To finish:
4 tablespoons butter

a few sprigs fresh thyme

In a food processor, combine the flour and salt. Cut the butter into roughly tablespoon-sized pieces and add, then pulse until the mixture looks a bit crumbly. Put in the egg yolk and about 3 tablespoons of the water, then run the processor until the dough starts to come together. It should clump into a big ball; if it doesn’t, drizzle in another tablespoon of the water. You want to add as little liquid as possible.

Remove from the food processor and flatten into two 7-inch disks. Wrap each in plastic wrap and refrigerate about 5 minutes.

In the meantime, make the filling: Sauté the onions in the oil over a medium flame, stirring very infrequently. Once they soften and begin to brown on each side, return the flame to low and allow to slowly caramelize. During this time, it is important to make sure the onions are spread as evenly as possible across the pan. Every few minutes, scrape the bottom and redistribute the onions so each gains the maximum amount of surface area. The intention is to slowly crisp the onions by enticing the remaining liquids to sweat out, and for the onions to sweeten by condensing in their own juices. If you stir too often, the onions will turn to mush. This process takes about 40 minutes.

When the onions are dark brown, but not burnt, add the thyme, cumin, and season with salt and a touch of cayenne. Set aside.

When ready to make the tarts, preheat the oven to 400°F. Roll out each disk into a rough circle. No need to be perfect, you just want the dough fairly even. Fold about 1 inch of the edges in all the way around, pinching every inch or so to seal. Slide onto a parchment-lined baking sheet.

Spread about 3/4 cup of the onion filling onto each crust. Top with 2 tablespoons of butter, cut into little squares. Bake for 20-30 minutes, until the crust is golden. Garnish with fresh thyme, then cut into 8 wedges and serve.

Caprese Skewers

Serves 15

You can really make as many of these bites as you want to fit your party size. We offered around 1.5 bites per person, which is always a safe assumption.


25 cherry tomatoes
25 basil leaves
25 bocconcini (bite-sized mozzarella balls)
1 cup basil-parsley pesto (recipe follows)

Thread the cherry tomato, followed by a basil leaf (folded in half) through the toothpick. Top with a bocconcini ball pressed halfway through with the skewer so the end is not revealed. Place pesto in a serving bowl in the middle of the platter and arrange skewers around the edge.

Basil-Parsley Pesto
Makes 1-2 cups  

2 garlic cloves
2-3 cups basil
1 cup parsley
1/4 cup pine nuts, toasted
1/4 – ½ cup olive oil
1/4 cup grated parmesan
1 lemon, juiced
Combine the garlic, herbs, and nuts in a food processor. Pulse to grind. Add the oil slowly to reach desired consistency (a thick paste). Remove to a bowl, add the Parmesan and the lemon juice, then taste for salt. Serve in a pretty bowl beside the caprese skewers.

Classic Deviled Eggs
Serves 12


6 eggs
small handful arugula, finely chopped
2 teaspoons mustard
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup mayonnaise (I made homemade, since it’s such a prominent taste in these eggs)
a few grinds fresh pepper
smoked or regular paprika for garnish

Hard boil the eggs: put 6 raw eggs in a pot with water to cover by about 1 inch. Bring to a boil, then turn off the heat. When the water has cooled to the point where it’s comfortable to stick your hand in to grab the eggs, that means they’re done. Remove and cool completely in the fridge. Peel and then cut in half along the longer axis.
Take the egg yolk out from both halves and place in a bowl. Gently mash them, then add the salt, mustard, mayo, pepper, and arugula. Taste for seasonings and correct if necessary.

Arrange the 12 halves on a serving platter. Carefully scoop about 1 tablespoon of filling into the concavity of each egg. Garnish with a sprinkling of paprika, preferably smoked.

For homemade mayo:
1 fresh, organic egg yolk
1 teaspoon white wine vinegar
pinch salt
1/2 cup oil

Place 1 fresh organic egg yolk in the bottom of your food processor or in a small bowl that won’t shift when you whisk. Add 1 teaspoon water and the vinegar and salt, then pulse/whisk to combine. Drizzle in the oil little by little–going especially slowly at first. Continue to add the oil until the mayonnaise is thickened and smooth and all of the oil is used up. Refrigerate until ready to use, up to 3 days.

Puff Pastry Wrapped Asparagus
Makes 40 appetizers

about 40 asparagus spears
1 package puff pastry, defrosted in the fridge for 24 hours
oil in a spray bottle, or a few tablespoons in a small bowl to apply with a brush
1/4 cup finely grated Parmesan

Preheat the oven to 400°F.

Rinse the asparagus and pat them dry. Snap the woody bottom off of each one (it will snap naturally when you bend the bottom) and discard.

Unwrap the puff pastry and unfold each sheet. If the pastry refuses to unroll, grab a rolling pin and flatten the dough into a rectangle measuring about 10 x 12″.

Cut the pastry into strips that are about 1/4-inch thick and 10 inches long. Fasten the strip of dough at the base of an asparagus spear by winding it all the way around. Then spiral the dough attractively around the spear until you reach the top.

Place the asparagus on a parchment-lined baking sheet with the loose end at the bottom. Repeat with the remaining vegetables, leaving about an inch between them on the tray. Spray or brush with olive oil, then sprinkle lightly with both salt and Parmesan. Bake for 15-20 minutes, until the asparagus are wrinkled and browned and the pastry is golden. Serve warm or within 2 hours of making them.

Dill Turkey Sandwiches with Beet Relish
Makes 30 small sandwiches

1 package Pepperidge Farm “Thin Slice” white sandwich bread
8 ounces mayonnaise
3 tbsp chopped fresh dill
2 cups beet relish (minced very very fine)
1lb turkey (at least 30 slices)
2 handfuls arugula leaves

Mix the mayo and dill together in a small mixing bowl. Spread a thin layer of the dill mayo on one slice of the bread. Top with two slices of turkey.

On another slice of bread, spread a thing layer of beet relish. Top with a few leaves of arugula. Sandwich two halves together and press down gently.

Using a serrated knife, cut the crusts off the bread (using a damp cloth to clean the knife after each pass). Slice the sandwich across the diagonal into two pieces. Arrange sandwiches on a platter, and serve.

Big Girls, Test Kitchen: The Perfect Holiday Dinner

EVENT: The Ina-Inspired Perfect Holiday Dinner
VENUE: Phoebe’s Apartment, Flatiron
TYPE: Festive, Fancy-ish Sit-Down Feast
MENU: Caramelized Onion Pizzettes with Smoked Mozzarella and Arugula; Tagliarelle with Truffle Butter; Chicken with Goat Cheese and Sun Dried Tomato; Roasted Root Vegetables; Individual Red Berry Parfaits with Olive Oil Pound Cake
BUDGET: $60 (not including dessert)

I’ve been extremely lucky to have a very venerable cooking mentor over the years: Ina Garten. My dad met Ina back in high school in Stamford, Connecticut, and they have been friends, save for a twenty year gap somewhere in mid-life, ever since.

I’m not sure when exactly they reconnected after so many years. But one of my most vivid cooking memories is of helping Ina make German Chocolate Cake for my dad’s 50th birthday when I was 13. This was pre-Food Network superstardom, and I remember how she swept through my childhood kitchen in Westchester with expert catering prowess, assessing the platters, grabbing small silver serving bowls that hadn’t see the light of day since my parents unpacked them with the rest of their wedding china, and whipping out a large tin of caviar from her supply bag which we ate with potato chips and champagne (or, at least, the adults did).

Everything we made that night was simple, elegant, and perfect for the occasion, from the pumpernickel smoked salmon tartines with herb butter to the cake, which stood tall and proud on its stand, flaunting three dense chocolate-y layers and decadent icing. But more importantly, the items were perfectly attuned to the tastes of her audience. Though there were probably more colorful, impressive-looking desserts for the celebration (like, say, Red Berry Trifle), she chose this cake because she knew it was my father’s favorite; the caviar was served with rustic, golden brown kettle potato chips instead of atop a fancy blini, because, well, potato chips are absolutely delicious, regardless of their position as humble snack food. And though the meal still exhibited the special quality worthy of such a milestone birthday, it also retained the manner of comfort that would make hosts and guests alike want to eat the meal again and again.

From this cooking experience with Ina, I realized that comfort cravings—for Meatloaf, Pot Roast, Perfect Mac ‘n Cheese—are shared by every crowd. And from her cookbooks, which were among my first, and still to this day most treasured, I learned that an elegant platter of Spaghetti and Meatballs can elevate the quality of a meal to something warm, satisfying, and unexpectedly special for the twenty-somethings at my table, and adults alike.

Back in 2006, Cara and I had the pleasure of being guests on Ina’s show, returning from college to be pampered by a huge platter of gravlox, fresh fruit, and a basket of sour cream blueberry muffins in the episode Good Home Cooking. This holiday season, I had the honor of actually cooking a festive meal with Ina on her show, and afterwards, I couldn’t wait to get home and make this perfect holiday dinner for Cara and some of our other close friends.

Since our dinner happened to fall on the first night of Hanukkah, Leora and her boyfriend, Adam, brought festive decorations that attempted to make this non-denominational holiday meal as denominational as possible. Like the children we sometimes are, we embraced her Hanukkah rubber duckies and star of David napkins in place of Ina’s beautiful votives and glowing branches. The dinner itself hit all the perfect comfort notes—creamy pasta; cheesy, perfectly roasted chicken; bright, beautiful berries and cream—but, like the 50th birthday dinner 12 years ago, it was simultaneously elevated above the everyday classics to create something truly special for the occasion.

Tagliarelle with Truffle Butter

Since we, like Ina, are true believers that brownies in boxes are the most genuine expression of appreciation, we sent Ina a tin of treats containing Cara’s M&M Blondies to thank her for her endless generosity, friendship, and the best gift of all: a perfect holiday dinner.

From my kitchen, where Ina knows best, to yours,


**Tips and Tricks**


As Ina promised, this dinner was budget friendly. For the savory part of the meal, I spent $60 dollars, averaging out to less than $10 per person, which is my usual measure for whether or not a meal is affordable to make a larger group (I’d invited 8 people).

Some ways to save: instead of using a dried handmade pasta, I went to my favorite mom n’ pop Italian grocer and had them cut me two pounds of fresh pasta into the size of tagliatelle for only $5. The truffle butter is relatively affordable, but if you order it from D’artagnan, the shipping can kill your wallet. Since I made Ina’s Truffle Mac ‘n Cheese for my birthday, I made a large order for the truffle butter so I would have it on hand in my freezer for the rest of the year. The shipping, amortized between 5 containers of truffle butter, only added $3 dollars to each container.

Since the tagliarelle needed to be served immediately, I knew I would be cooking while the guests were at my apartment. For my dinner with Ina, this worked out perfectly, since she let me cook with her! But because I have an open kitchen, I needed to give my guests another activity lest they all stand around and watch as I reduce heavy cream on the fire and receive a pasta facial as the tagliarelle drained. I always find the best distraction to be finger food. For this meal, I had some leftover caramelized onions from a savory tart we made for a catering gig (recipe to come!). I also had some leftover arugula, so I decided to pick up some pizza dough from my favorite pizza place (you can easily use frozen…or homemade) and make an appetizer around them. The fresh dough, enough for a large pie, only cost me $3.

One thing that I always do to stay on budget: make Cara bring dessert. When not involving fruit, nuts, or chocolate, this can be the cheapest part of the meal anyway—baking cookies or a cake can usually be managed with the flour and sugar in your pantry, and an add-in or two. But it really helps take the burden of the host to not have to share your oven rack(s) with too many dishes.

Since Cara’s boyfriend doesn’t eat butter, Cara made a slight variation on the original trifle by using Olive-Oil Pound Cake and making individual servings in punch glasses (the larger, composed version would have been a little difficult to bring from Brooklyn!). Though she also tweaked a few of the ingredients (omitting framboise and cognac in the whipped cream) that made Ina’s dish so particularly special, the result was a beautifully colorful dessert to round out the perfect, festive holiday meal.

Quarter-Life Table Settings

I’m always impressed by how elegant and beautiful Ina’s tablescapes look on her show (and in person). As quarter-life cooks, we don’t usually think about the table first and foremost because we hardly ever use our dining room tables (if we have one at all). My “dining room” fabric collection is a rather sorry sight: mismatched cloth napkins (about 3 of one kind, 3 of another), and a few bright pink placemats that don’t match any of these napkins. I’ve inherited all of these elements from my parents who, no doubt, passed them down to me because they had no use for them without the missing members of the original set. I’m not about to invest in any myself, but the one thing I have bought since moving into my apartment is a tablecloth.

It’s worth having one simple, cheap tablecloth to present a more refined, clean aesthetic when entertaining for special occasions. I have two, both of which I spent less than $20 dollars on and use all the time. They are good for big parties and dinners alike. When I set up the bar on my table, I always put the tablecloth down so I know I won’t have to deal with sticky tonic water on my wood the next day, and then I just toss it in the laundry bin for next time. For dinners, you only really have to wash it if there are stains, unlike napkins which people wipe their grubby mouths with, and should definitely not be reused without a good trip through a rinse cycle.

The point: I think my table looks rather adult, even with paper napkins, and it didn’t cost that much to make it this way. Buy a tablecloth.


You can find the recipes Ina and I made on the show on

Caramelized Onion Pizzettes with Smoked Mozzarella and Arugula
Makes 16 Pizzettes

You can use a few different cheeses here—regular mozzarella, fontina, gouda, ricotta, or, most practical of all, some of the goat cheese you bought for the chicken. If using a soft cheese, make sure to put it down on the dough first, then follow with the onions.


1 ball pizza dough (if buying fresh, ask for enough for a large pie)
1 cup caramelized onions
1/2lb smoked mozzarella, shredded
2 cups loosely packed arugula leaves
olive oil

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.

Roll the pizza dough out on a floured surface (if you don’t own a rolling pin, cover an empty wine bottle in plastic wrap). Cut the dough into small rounds with a cookie cutter, or by using the bottom of a water glass and a paring knife.

Oil a cookie sheet and arrange the rounds on it. Brush with olive oil, top with a spoonful of onions and a sprinkle of mozzarella. Bake in the oven for 7-10 minutes, until the crust is browned and crispy, and the cheese is fully melted. Top with a handful of arugula, and serve immediately.

Cara’s Olive Oil Pound Cake Trifle with Raspberries and Cream
Serves 8

1/2 recipe Orange-Olive Oil Pound Cake
1/3 cup apricot jam
1 1/2 cups frozen raspberries
3 tablespoons sugar
juice from 1 large orange
1 1/3 cup whipping cream
3 tablespoons confectioners sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 cup toasted almond slices for garnish (optional)
1 pint fresh raspberries for garnish (optional)

Cut the pound cake into 1/2-inch thick slices. Thinly cover one side of each slice with the jam. Set aside.

To make the raspberry compote: combine the raspberries with the sugar and the orange juice. Bring to a simmer over medium-low heat and cook, stirring nearly constantly, for about 10 minutes, until the raspberries have slightly melted and the liquid they produced has reduced by half. Turn off the heat, scrape into a bowl, and set aside.
Whip the cream: put the cream, confectioners sugar, and vanilla in a large bowl. With a mixer, handheld mixer, or a whisk, whip until the cream holds soft peaks. Refrigerate until ready to use.

To assemble, cut a slice of pound cake to fit the bottom of an individual serving dish or a pretty glass. Cover with a tablespoon or two of cream, then drizzle on some raspberry compote. Cut the remainder of the slice into 1/2-inch cubes and sprinkle them on top. Add more compote, then more cream, then finish with some toasted almonds, some cake crumbs, and/or some fresh raspberries.

Cara’s individual trifles, keeping cool on the windowsill
Orange Olive Oil Poundcake
Makes 1 loaf
1 1/2 cups flour

1 teaspoon baking powder
pinch salt
1 cups sugar
1/2 cup olive oil
zest from 1 medium orange (save the juice for the raspberry compote)
2 large eggs
1/2 cup sherry, cognac, or Grand Marnier

Preheat the oven to 350 °F. Grease an 8 x 3 3/4″ loaf pan.

In a large bowl, mix the flour, baking powder, and salt.
Using a stand or hand-held mixer, beat the sugar, oil, and orange zest on high speed until well blended. Add the eggs one at a time, then beat until the mixture is thick and pale, 3 to 5 minutes. Turning the mixer to low, add 1/3 of the dry ingredients, mix for a moment, then add half of the sherry, beating until just blended. Repeat with another third of the flour, followed by the remaining sherry, and then the remaining flour.
Scrape the batter into the pan(s). Bake until the cake tester comes out clean, 50 to 60 minutes. Cool the cake in the pan(s) on a rack for about 15 minutes before unmolding.

You can make this cake 2-3 days ahead for the trifle; in fact it’s great if it’s a tiny bit stale.

my roommate Caitlyn’s beautiful handiwork: a swan doggy bag for Alex