Readers’ Instagram posts help inspire holiday, cold-weather cooking

Another year of feeding ourselves is behind us, and here we are, scraping the dried bits of dough off the bench scraper, scrubbing the sheet pans that worked so hard, replacing the 9-inch-by-13-inch casserole dishes we forgot to retrieve at summer and fall potlucks.

Anyone who cooks knows that it’s often a thankless job, yet one so necessary. But when the creativity or inspiration strikes, that special magic found only in a kitchen returns.

We relish the special ingredient we picked out at the store and the everyday miracle of a burner that lights with the twist of a wrist. We have a moment of connection with a recipe writer who lives far away or a cookbook that takes us back to another moment in time. We find joy in the process of trying out a new recipe, the sigh when it doesn’t turn out, the beaming pride when it does.

As this year wraps up, it’s amazing to scroll through my own Instagram photos and see all the food I had a hand in making: the soups I made when we were ready for spring but winter wasn’t finished yet, the brownies I made for Valentine’s Day, the crawfish boil just before Easter, empanada night at a friend’s, the loquats, the cookies, the cinnamon raisin bread.

At the very least, documenting the food I make on Instagram — and seeing what you all make and share through #Austin360Cooks — yields my own little online recipe collection, but it also reminds me of what I’m capable of doing on days when I don’t feel like I can.

We’ve pulled together about a dozen of those #Austin360Cooks Instagram photos to inspire your own cooking this holiday season and into the new year.

Whatever sparks the creativity in your cooking, I hope you found plenty of it this year. If you’re still stuck trying to figure out what that might be, encouragement awaits, no matter if you prefer that online through a social media site or offline at a cooking class, a cookbook club or a neighborhood potluck.

Just don’t forget your casserole dish.

Italian Sausage Wedding Soup

The Instant Pot was, by far, the most buzzed-about kitchen device this year, prompting dozens of cookbooks teaching people how to use it. Local cook @from_lbs_to_lbds turned a recipe she found on Pinterest for a slow cooker Italian wedding soup into one she could cook in the Instant Pot. This original Crock Pot version of the recipe is from

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 pound ground Italian sausage

1 red onion, diced

2 carrots, sliced

6 cups chicken stock/broth

4 packed cups kale, chopped

1 teaspoon lemon juice

2 teaspoon minced garlic

1 bay leaf

1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes

1/2 cup small, dried pasta

Salt and pepper to taste

Place olive oil in a skillet over medium heat, add in ground sausage and cook until browned. Drain off excess fat, return to heat and add in onions and carrots, cooking until onions sweat

Transfer meat and veggies to the slow cooker. Add in chicken broth, kale, lemon juice, garlic, bay leaf and crushed red peppers, and stir to combine. Cook on low for 5 hours. Add in pasta and cook for 1 additional hour. Season to taste with salt and pepper; serve with Parmesan cheese sprinkled on top.

— Adapted from a recipe on

Chocolate Truffles

When I was in the seventh grade, my dad brought home a cookbook called “Truffles and Other Chocolate Confections,” by Pamela Asquith. I had never experienced melt-in-your-mouth dark chocolate decadence like that before, and I quickly learned that the rest of Odessa hadn’t, either. We started getting requests for truffles at parties and gatherings almost immediately. Sitting at the table and scooping dark chocolate ganache before rolling the spheres in cocoa, powdered sugar or chopped pecans became a holiday tradition.

When I moved to New York City, it took me a while to find a job, so I made truffles and sold them at my brother’s office during his lunch break for $2 a pop. I continued to take orders from colleagues during Valentine’s Day for years, fulfilling them with help from my neighbors and friends. I needed help because scooping ganache into balls is exhausting!

A few years ago it dawned on me that cutting supercold ganache into squares and tossing them in cocoa would also cut prep time by more than half — yielding an equally decadent piece of chocolate. I haven’t made a round truffle since 2014!

Here is the simplest recipe iteration of my truffles squares, and a shoutout to everyone who helped me roll ’em out before my moment.

— Mackenzie Smith

1 cup cream

12 ounces dark chocolate, finely chopped

5 tablespoons butter

2 tablespoons bourbon (optional)

Cocoa, for coating

Flaky salt (optional)

Scald cream in a medium saucepan over medium high heat. Add chocolate and stir until melted. Stir in butter and add bourbon, if using. Stir and pour into a parchment-lined pan. Chill in the fridge for at least 4 hours. Freeze for 10 minutes before you cut into small squares, and freeze again before you toss in cocoa and sprinkle with flaky salt.

— Adapted from Pamela Asquith recipe by Mackenzie Smith

Garlic Pull-Apart Bread

Looks impressive? It’s really easy to make. Six ingredients and 30 minutes are all you need for this cheesy garlic pull-apart bread. Serve it as a side, an appetizer or a snack. You can use any type of cheese for this recipe. Shredded works just fine. For a more meaty flavor, add bacon bits, sausage or ham pieces into the stuffing. Other spice ideas include chipotle chili pepper, smoked Spanish paprika, garlic powder, etc.

— Sharon Chen

1 bread loaf

8 ounces Monterey jack cheese with jalapeño peppers, thinly sliced

6 garlic cloves, thinly sliced or minced

3/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes

1/4 cup chives, chopped

1/4 cup unsalted butter

Slice the bread horizontally and vertically into 1-inch cubes, leaving the bottom of the loaf intact with the bread pieces still attached. Slice cheese, then garlic. Combine red pepper flakes with chopped chives in a small bowl.

Lay the bread on a piece of foil. (The foil should be large enough the wrap the bread.) Gently stuff the cheese slices into the bread between the bread slices.

Next, add the red pepper flakes and chives right next to each cheese slice in the bread. Heat oven to 350 degrees. Melt butter in a small skillet over medium heat on your stove top. Stir in sliced (or minced) garlic, switch to medium-low heat, and let the garlic cook in the butter for 2-3 more minutes until fragrant.

Use a small spoon to stuff the garlic slices between the bread slices. Brush the infused butter all over the bread.

Wrap the prepared bread with foil and bake for 20 minutes. Unwrap the top and bake for another 10 minutes until the cheese is completely melted and the top of the bread is crispy.

— From Sharon Chen of

Goat Cheese Alfredo Sauce

If you can’t eat gluten or cows’ milk, this alfredo sauce will surprise you. Made with goat cheese and coconut milk, it’s creamy and tangy without the gluten. Blogger Deana Evans says the Bionaturae brand of gluten-free pasta is so good, they are eating more pasta lately because of it.

— Addie Broyles

2 tablespoons ghee

1/2 tablespoon certified gluten-free oat flour

1 1/2 cups coconut milk

3 to 4 ounces goat cheese

1 teaspoon local honey

Pinch paprika

Salt to taste

Melt the ghee in a small saucepan. Add the oat flour and stir with a wooden spoon for about 2 minutes over medium heat to create a roux.

Slowly stir in the coconut milk and bring to a low boil as the mixture thickens, about 5 minutes. It should be thick enough that it sticks to the wooden spoon.

Then add the goat cheese, honey, paprika, and salt. Stir well over lowered heat until the goat cheese melts and everything is well incorporated. Taste test to adjust to your preferences.

— From Deana Evans of

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