One of the big advantages of being a competitive home cook is the meeting of like-minded people. In my recipe contest travels I have been fortunate to make friends all over the country. My competitors inspire me nearly every day with their creativity not only as winning cooks, but also as parents, craftsmen and entrepreneurs. Their ability to juggle family life, full time jobs and their desires to extend themselves even further in finding their passion is remarkable. Today, I just feel lucky to know so many kind and generous ladies and gents some of which I have never even met face to face.
Let me tell you about the award-winning cook and Etsy shop owner Shannon Imlay. Shannon and I are FB friends. I believe I first came to know and admire her in an online cooking group better known as The Real Women of Philadelphia. I will never forget my first impression when seeing her online profile photo and saying, “WOW”. Shannon is strikingly lovely. She is also an extremely talented party hostess and certified floral designer all the while taking care of a special needs son on her own. She is impressive.
Shannon has had her share of grief, but truly maintains a positive outlook on life. Her generosity of spirit never ceases to amaze me. Recently, she kindly sent me a most glamorous and decadent giftbox filled with products from her Etsy shop, Shannon’s Romantic Life.
I could not wait to try both of her hot chocolate mixes inspired by the romantic-comedy movie Chocolat (thus the spelling of her products). Made from just a few high quality and organic ingredients her sipping chocolate is like none other I have tasted. Rich and creamy this is a luscious dark chocolate blend with just the right amount of sweetness. The Spicy Kiss version has a touch of chipotle chili which adds a smokey subtle burn in the back of the throat which was thoroughly enjoyed. All you have to do to make this decadent drink is add milk, whisk and bring to a boil.
If you need a gift (Easter & Mother’s Day) or a reason to spoil yourself then check out Shannon”s Romantic Life on Etsy. Everything in Shannon’s shop is crafted with love, kindness and the highest quality ingredients. She is also very happy to customize any order.
It’s that time of year when I look forward to getting my hands into the dirt. Seed and garden catalogs pile up on the coffee table with dog-eared pages and the outdoor thermometer is the first thing I check upon rising every morning. I long for the final frost of the season and dream of a healthy, productive garden.
A flock of red wing black birds took a break in the backyard today. It’s exciting to see the promise of spring in this way. The bluebirds are very busy making nests and it’s clear among the deer herd who will be giving birth in a couple of months. With snow still on the ground it is hard to imagine that there will be flowers blooming any time soon, but sure as the day is long, the bees will come and pollinate it all. It helps that I don’t use any chemicals in my yard. The bees and the butterflies flourish. We all benefit.
This pie is inspired by a recipe I saw in a book written by my all time favorite baker, Rose Levy Beranbaum. If I had a girl crush it would be on her. One of the first cookbooks I ever owned was her Cake Bible and I still treasure that book today. Rose’s version of this Bavarian cream pie naturally highlights honey, but I chose to change it up a bit with some blueberry elderberry preserves and elderflower syrup from Norm’s Farms. A baked cookie crust holds all the buzz worthy goodness. Isn’t it amazing what one can do with bubble wrap!
Elderberry Honeycomb Cream Pie
1 (9-inch) shortbread or graham cracker crust)
½ cup Norm’s Farms Blueberry Elderberry Preserves
4 egg yolks plus 1 egg white
1/3 cup plus ½ cup Norm’s Farms Elderflower Syrup
2 ¼ teaspoons plain gelatin
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 cup milk
1/8 teaspoon lemon juice
½ cup heavy cream
Edible candy bees, optional (I piped mine with melted dark chocolate)
1 (9-inch circle) bubble wrap with small size bubbles
If not using a store-bought crust, prepare, bake and cool homemade cookie crust. Spread preserves over bottom of crust. In small saucepan, whisk egg yolks, 1/3 cup elderflower syrup, gelatin and salt. In microwave safe measure, heat milk to just a simmer. Whisking constantly, very gradually add hot milk to egg yolk mixture until fully blended. Place saucepan over medium heat. Whisking constantly bring mixture just to a simmer. Do not boil. It should be slightly thickened. Strain custard through a sieve into a small metal bowl. To speed chilling, place bowl in another bowl of ice water; set aside. Meanwhile, in another small bowl, beat egg white and lemon juice to stiff peaks. Using same beaters, in another bowl, beat heavy cream to soft peaks. Stir elderflower mixture until it is cool and thick enough to slightly mound when small amount is dropped from spoon. Fold in egg white and whipped cream. Pour into pie crust; smooth top. Press bubble wrap, bubble side down, over cream filling. Freeze at least 3 hours or as long as overnight. In small saucepan, bring remaining ½ cup of elderflower syrup to a low boil. Simmer syrup until reduced and just turns a shade darker amber color. Let cool slightly, but still fluid. Carefully remove bubble wrap from frozen pie. Drizzle syrup over pie. Place pie in refrigerator to thaw at least 1 hour before serving. Garnish as desired. Serves 8.
Today, I could not help but want to repost this old Valentine’s day blog. It truly is one of my fondest memories of William. Thinking back on that visit with him always makes me smile. He was the master of fun surprises.
I continue to be inspired by his amazing brave and caring energy which brings me to this weekend’s TEDx talk. Truth be told I wasn’t exactly sure what a TEDx talk was when I accepted the invitation. I just knew it would be one more way to celebrate Will’s life, so of course I said, “yes”.
Little did I know that being invited to do a TEDx talk is kind of a big deal. Little did I know just how terrified I would be as I prepared for it. In between panic attacks over the last several weeks I prepared 7 pages of my thoughts. Too much I fretted, so whittled it down to 4. I attempted to memorize a speech. Practice, practice, practice. It felt like I was jumping out of an airplane without a parachute. It felt all wrong.
Several supportive friends suggested, “just speak from your heart”. I am taking their advice and feeling less anxious. To just simply speak from the heart feels right.
To further ease my anxiety I thought it a good idea to bake cookies for all 300 people in the TEDx audience. Baking cookies is much more therapeutic than public speaking. Just sayin’. I’m bringing the original Sweet William’s Inspired and Spirited Chocolate Chip Cookie and a Salted Chocolate Whiskey Shortbread because I wanted a heart shaped cookie.
The cookie dough for the shortbread contains no salt, so don’t hesitate to generously top each cookie with a good sprinkle of finishing salt. I highly recommend The Spice & Tea Exchange Chocolate Sea Salt for its sweet smokey flavor.
Chocolate Sea Salt or your favorite finishing salt
In large bowl, beat butter and sugar for 5 minutes or until light and fluffy. On low speed, add egg, vanilla and whisky; blend well. Gradually add flour until fully incorporated. Stir in chocolate. Dump dough out onto some plastic wrap. Gather it up into a flat disk. Wrap and chill in the fridge for 30 minutes. Heat oven to 350F. On a silicone mat or lightly floured surface roll dough to 1/8-1/4-inch thickness. Cut out desired shapes with cookie cutters. Re-roll dough scraps as needed to cut out more cookies. Sprinkle cookies generously with finishing salt. Gently press salt into cookie with your fingertips. Bake for 10 to 12 minutes for 1 1/2-inch size cookies or until edges brown. Cool. I made about 200 cookies with a small heart shaped cutter.
On this Valentine’s Day I hope you are surrounded by those you love most. ❤