French Chocolate Silk Pie & Warm Memories


By James & Catherine Hill

At our little castle, we have a tradition of serving chocolate silk pie on really special occasions, because it is a family recipe on Catherine side, and because it is perhaps James’ favorite dessert she makes. Which is lovely because it is way, way easy!

On the downside, if you do not have four or more people to serve this to, or you’re a major chocoholic, a lot of it will go uneaten. It does not last all too long in the refrigerator, but who cares, man? It’s rich and worth it! But if you just can’t justify making a whole one, the solution might be to halve the recipe and make it in mini pie or tart pans or cupcake tins. When we make the full recipe just for ourselves there is always a bit that goes uneaten, but we tend not to care too much about it. Here’s why.

We will say it over and over. The key to a happy domestic life in your castle is to make whatever you bake, build, cook, craft, and choose as entertainment be the best use of your energy, money and time. However, there is one more thing to consider, and maybe we haven’t stressed this enough. You might want to consider from time to time the emotional investment factor. Weigh this against the good habits of saving energy, money and time. By the emotional investment, we mean what a food means to you even when it is sort of a frivolity. Like a food that is a long held tradition or a comfort but provides little else. When one goes to make such a food they have a choice to make about budgeting and the emotional investment.

For a special event, you might write your budget more on the generous and perhaps wasteful side than on the skinny side for that day and write it in a thinner fashion elsewhere – like beans and rice for a few days for dinner. Or you might do what we do currently. We create a fund especially for an event by earmarking a part of our savings over the year. Example: we save for all the yearly holidays starting each January by earmarking money each month. Example: the money we saved in January goes to Valentine’s Day dinner. Then the next few months go to Easter, then the rest of the year goes to Thanksgiving and Christmas season (Which Includes Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and New Year’s Eve, New Year’s Day and Epiphany.

In general, deserts are foods which make more of a dent in a food or party budget then you might think, and even when it’s home made. This is why when you do have a desert for a party make it an event. We might leave it out on a pedestal and then let people know when it will be served and we tend to take a lot of time and care in serving it. The care helps us justify the cost because the desert will be lovely and thus act as the perfect conclusion to a dinner party or small gathering. By the way, to get the most impact out of serving time do not serve guests piece by piece. When you do that it makes it so that people start eating at different times. Perhaps build your plates in the kitchen and serve using a tray all the guest at once to the biggest wow factor possible. This can be hard in a small apartment will little counter space by the way and if so the individual size servings suggested earlier might be a better option and you might simply plate and garnish at the table and then serve all at once right there. I should interject here that I think piles and piles of flavored chips are one of the worst wastes of money at a party, not deserts, because with the money used to buy junk food, one could buy the ingredients to make easy party foods that sit well in grown up stomachs with little effort. As far as a pricey addition to a festive table, deserts certainly do take the cake for that, because of the special flours and decorating items needed. It is a heavy front end cost endeavor. Not the French chocolate silk pie though. It is rather economical and you don’t have to be marvelous at making it look pretty either. Let’s face it. The desert does not have much nutritional value. So dollar for dollar you know you’re getting less “real” food. But if it’s only once and awhile it will surely nourish the soul. Especially when French chocolate silk pie becomes a family tradition.

We make French chocolate Silk Pie for James’ birthday, New Years and we have even brought one to a friend’s wedding. We hope you try it out and add it to your next special event’s menu.


Miller’s French Chocolate Silk Pie Crust Pie Crust

By Catherine Hill

For refrigerator style pies like our French Chocolate Silk Pie we Hills like using a crust made from Graham cracker crumb and filberts (hazelnuts) and like everything, we like it homemade. But if all you have time for is a store-bought crust it’s okay by us.  I buy store bought cookie crust all the time and I won’t apologize for it. In fact, I have found that there’re some nice gluten free crusts out there too.  To that end, I have included a few tweaks to this recipe to make it gluten-free as well. The basic idea I hope to teach you here is how to make a crust that will hold up to cutting and serving.  

Read More…


Starting with the Basics of Dessert


By Catherine Hill

Oo là là!.  My Mother’s Cream is a rich thick pastry cream with a mellow flavor that can be easily jazzed up. If you like a little something decadent, fancy, French and sweet but don’t want to pay nearly $4 or more per treat, I suggest making your own pastries and cakes.

Butter, cream, eggs, flours, milk, salt, sugars, and water are the main ingredients for most of the delights you’d find in a French pastry or bread shop. Extracts, flavorings, and jams can mark up the cost quite a bit, but for the most part, you will be paying a quarter of the price, THAT’S $1!

When you make it yourself you can make healthier choices by crafting smaller pastries than the bakery offers and saving your hips and heart some undue strain. Sadly, dessert food is not nutritional. They are high in fat, sugar and sometimes cholesterol. I stay clear of using shortening and corn syrup as much as I can. Restaurants want you to come back, so they give you layer after layer of sugar and fat, usually in heaping quantities. At the store, the boxed or frozen desserts come crammed full of that stuff and more making the trans fats and sugar content way higher than those produced by you at home. That is why I suggest if you’re going to indulge why not make those indulgences in your own kitchen from scratch instead of out of a box.

I must caution our first-time bakers that are thinking of jumping full-fledged with no experience to a full-on multi-component homemade recipe, slow your roll.

If you, for instance, don’t know how to make:

Pastry cream
Whipping cream
Glaze (fruit nor sugar)

I would not try and make every component of say a cupcake and then on top of it all attempt assembling it.

I swore off baking for 8 years because I found it overwhelming. I thought, since I was an artist somehow I would be good at the decorating part. That, my friend, was hubris. I do not want this for you. Bad baking doth not make a happy castle Repeat this: “hubris and baking do not go together, and I promise to always enter into a new recipe as if I know nothing”. I think you’ll be okay if you stick to that mantra. Baking, and making fillings, both have new skill sets to learn. It takes planning, practice, and stamina. You’ll have to get used to the process before you get going.

I try to make the easiest thing first when learning something new. It helps me build my confidence. So if you are really new to making sweets I think you should start similarly with something like a frosting or the pastry cream.

Back to our recipe, my Mother’s Cream which is rather closely related to Boston Cream and is a version of pastry cream for use in cakes and pastry like éclairs. It is a little fiddly and fussy. You will have to learn how to separate egg whites from egg yokes and to temper (meaning to slowly increase in temperature). It will definitely challenge you to get your whisking skills up to snuff too. It is versatile and will teach you skills that you will need in other, more complicated recipes. It took me 4 tries to do it right, but all of my mistakes were tasty.  Please read my recipe for Mother’s Cream on our recipe page.

Get Your Drink On: Part One


Hello readers,

I think our Hit The Road Jack Cocktail makes for a lovely late Summer early Fall drink. The first thing I crave in fall is apple cider and for that matter apple anything. But it was in the winter that we came up with this tasty bevy. I think in fact it was really one of those recipes born of necessity and frugality on a New Year’s Eve night a few years back.

I don’t venture out on New Years most years, but the hubby loves it, so he’ll go hang with his guys and then come home to me for new years kisses. When he came home to celebrate with me we found that we did not have anything in the house like apple cider or sparkling wine, so to toast in the new year we had to get creative. Creative plus booze mean cocktails. But to our dismay, we didn’t have much left in the liquor cabinet from the holidays. But we did have some of the applejack left from our Christmas roast and apple persimmon pies both of which heavily rely on the stuff.

So here is what happened there was a lemon hiding in the very back of the refrigerator and a dusty dented can our two of unsweetened grapefruit flavored soda pop I picked up from the markdown section of our grocery store. So we made do. With a few tweaks over the years, this is what we can up with. We hope you love it! If you would like to see other recipes for cocktails using applejack please visit the Laird’s website for more ideas!

Catherine Hill

Budgeting For Beginners


Banking and budgeting! Gross! I know they are dirty words. One of the biggest taboos in our culture is discussing our finances and the big emotions that surround them. That is what this post is all about, talking about money and taming the shame monsters. We want your little castle to be a happy castle, and we believe it can be done with a solid self-motivated education in home economics, which includes a bit of money smarts. We also have a companion podcast for this post and we recommend that you give it a listen for extra information and encouragement.

We believe that home economics can be broken down into 3 key aspects.

  1. The first aspect focuses on using the resources of your land, house, and pantry to best effect with the least waste. For example, when we buy bags of onions for onion soup we can re-use the plastic fishnet onion sacks as dish-scrubbers before we recycle them – saving us money on our cleaning supply budget.
  1. The second aspect of home economics is about practices and strategies to perform maintenance to your home easily and efficiently. For example, if we take care of our outdoor benches – repaint them often – then we won’t need to replace them due to rot.

These first two aspects help us to save money through resource management and by preventing larger expenses later down the road. Most people only think of these two aspects of home economics: the cooking, growing, and storing of foods and products, and maintenance of the home such as cleaning, decorating and the other odd jobs needed to keep home cozy and in one piece. But there is one more aspect.

  1. The third aspect is the banking, budgeting or what you might call “money smarts”! Our belief is that home economics is foundational to the first two aspects. Because, why should you save on odds and ends when you have no idea what you are speeding in reality?  Once you learn about budgeting you will quickly learn that how you spend defines how you live.

Now let’s talk money! Obviously, discussing money can be taboo and scary.  Especially if you feel like you’re not great with your personal finances. But keep in mind you’ll have to move on from those icky feelings to get anywhere. For us, our lives are lot easier since we’ve been truly aware of our finances. Now that we’re married, we joyfully have an eye on the family budget. This has helped us to organize and find our shared hopes for the future. Budgeting has also improved our relationship teaching us to work as a team to keep each other motivated to achieve our goals.

Budgeting becomes a motivating factor in itself. For example, as we see our earmarked funds grow after only a few months, the positive effects become evident, which gives us a strong sense of self-reliance. We don’t worry too much because we have a plan and we keep reworking that plan together as the plan advances. Even the notion of becoming more fiscally responsible can be very scary. For many people, (even us) getting started was incredibly difficult.

To address that difficulty, we’ve developed a system that is very simple and easy to implement. We have three suggestions to lead you down a sunnier path with your family’s finances. These suggestions will work for single people or families of two all the way to large families.

Here are the steps:

  1. Talk about “money smarts” with the people closest to you.

This will require you to tame the shame monster by utilizing positive self-talk. Communication and kindness kills shame. Step one heavily relies on good self-communication. For example, as you’re being honest with yourself, you’ll be creating a kinder and gentler style of self-talk. This is when you’ll say to yourself, “money is not bad”. Or “I am not a bad person because my (or our) money situation got away from me”. Money does not define you, but you need money to get by. By taking the shame out of the equation you can begin to truly help yourself rather than spending time either feeding a shame monster or running from him. Positive self-talk is a crucial aspect on the road to fiscal responsibility. Positive self-talk encourages positive feelings, reinforces new ways of spending and therefore creates a new way of living for you and your family.

Ideally, talking about “money smarts” with the people closest to you would mean speaking with your parents, or a close friend. Warning: this can create some friction, but the payoff is that you will get an idea where you may have picked up some of your good and bad habits. Each individual has a different story and circumstances.  Which means some people will feel more comfortable talking to a partner, or their closest friends rather than their family. This has the benefit of taking to edge off of the subject by making your shame monsters shrink and clearing away those awful feelings. On the other hand, this may be too big of a task right away, especially so if you have feelings of shame regarding how money is impacting your decision-making. If so that’s okay, just work on self-talk until you are ready to step up to speaking with others.

  1. Evaluate what you’re doing with your money.

Start by picking two days a month to do bills and budgeting. Circle it on calendars and set alarms on your phone. For example, we pay bills between the 3rd and the 5th of each month, but you’ll need to decide what works best for you.

Next, write the budget. We suggest guessing a budget first without looking at the bills and receipts from last month. You will need to do that later when you make your real budget. When writing this first budget, ask yourself, “Am I spending too much? If so, what am I spending too much on? Are we in the red or the black each month?” Then write down how you think you are doing.

If you are a couple and your finances are separate, that’s cool, but you need to do this together to help motivate each other, like having a workout buddy. Shame monsters are scared of company, so if your partner is properly supportive they will help scare off the shame monster and all those icky, gross feelings.

Do remember to keep your guessed budget around. You’ll get a kick out of how wrong you were on certain spending habits and how right you were about others.

To write a budget you can use:

  •    A pretty notebook or ledger    
  •    Mint, a free application available for the smartphone. You’ll need to set it up on a desktop first.
  •    Microsoft Excel, a spreadsheet program
  •    Numbers, a spreadsheet program for Mac users

You must do budgeting for one full cycle of your bills and pay periods before implementing step three.

  1. Start by making really small changes to spending.

Like an animal learning a complicated trick, people need baby steps to make significant changes. No one teaches his or her dog to do the whole trick at once. You must break it down into steps. That breaking down is called “shaping behavior”. We suggest, really giving you and your family the focus and time needed to change habits, staging the shaping of your spending and budgeting behavior should take place in 1-3 month increments to create your new habits. You will start by doing the below 2 tasks.

Task #1

For a period of time that covers all your bills and pay periods (1 month for example) use an envelope system of cash for one line item of your budget, where you believe you are overspending.

Some ideas

  •    Lunches
  •    Parking
  •    Fun money

You will see where the money is going and how much is left. Just do yourself a favor and be the bad cop and do not dip into your general funds if you run out too soon. Rough it. Think of it as reinforcement in shaping your behavior. You will repeat this for two more months augmenting the amount of money until your budget is just right.

Task # 2

DIY or switch up something costing you too much money.

Some ideas:

  •    Bring coffee to work
  •    Switch off the cable and read or take a walk when you’re bored.
  •    Do not eat out. If it’s too difficult, just try to limit how many times you eat out, or only go out on special occasions
  •    Commit to reusable for a month. For instance, you might go through your closet and cut up old clothes and use then for rags to avoid using paper towels or paper napkins for a month. This can save you, for a family of two, $10-$15. And if you regularly use paper plates, try using your real dishes this could save you $15-$20.
  •    Do not drink beer, wine or cocktails out. Limit it to home only. This will cut your booze cost by two-thirds. If you enjoy going out, monitor your spending habits. Slight adjustments can make a big difference over time.

Pick one from this list or come up with your own ideas and try to do it for three months. Keep in mind that if you are not sticking to your plan, it may not be working to save you money. Evaluate your budget each month and if needed try something else next month.

Changing something that drains your money can be difficult to do because our first thought is probably something like, “I like my treats, no taking my treats” or “I fought hard for this habit” and “I want, I want all of them – gimmie!” We understand and it’s something everyone goes through on some level.

One final note, for extra credit you can start educating yourself on money smarts by learning about how your debt and money grow. Understanding compound interest means you’ll understand the real cost of debts you may incur BEFORE YOU SIGN, and then you’ll have real freedom to make better choices. In a later post, we will talk more about how this relates to credit cards and why they are the biggest black holes in your financial universe.

Meanwhile, please check out this resource for calculating compound interest.

Catherine & James Hill


Fresh Breadcrumb and Dry Breadcrumb


How I ever lived without breadcrumb in my pantry I will never know.  In my Must Have Top Ten Ride or Die Pantry Items blog post, I listed breadcrumb as number 5 on my list in both fresh and dry forms.

If I run out of something like condensed milk or evaporated milk or just plain milk, I can use the old stand by powdered milk to save the day. Similarly, breadcrumb can stand in for other food items I might run out of or they can act as a filler for meatballs, meatloaf, stuffing and a whole lot more. Fresh breadcrumb makes a lovely thickener in sauces and dips like in our Roasted Red Pepper Dip. Dry breadcrumb toasted in butter or coconut oil can help nuts go farther in salad recipes, they are a nice substitute for grated hard cheeses on pasta, and if you mix breadcrumb into the flour it makes anything you fry just that much better. We’re happy to share our breadcrumb recipe here with you.

Catherine Hill

Roasted Red Pepper Dip


Hi readers!

Oooo… It’s pretty, yummy, very easy to prepare, and it can be made days before you need it. It tastes good hot and cold.  What’s even better is this recipe triple-duties as a dip, a sauce, and a sandwich spread as well.

Our Roasted Red Pepper Dip makes an easy party platter dip for all kinds of crackers, bread, and raw veggies. As a sauce, it is good on everything from pasta to roasted veggies. As a spread, it is lovely on traditional sandwiches and grilled sandwiches. It’s perfect for a Spanish themed tapas party with seafood or meat or as a starter on crostini or toasted bread. I cannot stress it enough how easy it is to make and store since it keeps for a long time and is better the second day.

Our Roasted Red Pepper dip is a grab, dump and blend thing.  So you can enjoy a bevy and chill whilst you make it. Enjoy!

Bye-bye for now and thanks for reading!

Catherine Hill

Must Have Top Ten Ride or Die Pantry Items

Must Have Top Ten Ride or Die Pantry Items.jpg

By Catherine Hill

  1.    Butter
  2.    Eggs
  3.    All-purpose flour
  4.    Powdered milk
  5.    Breadcrumb in both fresh and dry forms
  6.    Better Than Bouillon: Beef Base, and or any sort of paste bouillon
  7.    White sugar, and or brown and raw sugar
  8.    Salt kosher and iodized table salt
  9.    Black pepper and or a mix of different types of pepper
  10.  Starbucks Via instant coffee.

With this list of food items, you can make eggs, pancakes, noodle soup, creamy gravy, béchamel (roux sauce), all kinds of bread, and most importantly you can have some coffee and cake too.