What I Miss & Perfect Pairs

Afghanistan

Yesterday was William’s 29th birthday. Cheers to my boy. His birth was truly one of the best days of my life. Missing him more than I can express I celebrate him in the best way I can. In the garden planting seeds and in the kitchen creating a few recipes inspired by him he continues to be a bright light in my heart. I’m thankful for my hobbies and my passion to want to learn and try new things. Getting through tough times? It’s all about the distraction. Cooking, baking and gardening do it for me. How do you do it?

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I have been practicing my food photography with a new camera and have already received some very exciting feedback from some recipe/food sponsors. Can’t reveal what that is right now, but it sure made me feel good about trying something new and difficult. These days’ recipe contests require quite a bit of work. I miss the old days when all I had to do was create a recipe, write it down and mail it in. Now, in addition to preparing an original recipe, I am required to be a food stylist, food photographer and a creative writer. My poor husband. He knows he is not allowed to eat anything in the house until I have photographed it…on many a day we eat the food cold.

Probably one of the more wonderful things that have been on my plate lately is teaching two really smart and joyful young ladies, ages 11 & 9 how to cook. Sharing what I know about cooking and baking with the younger generation is quite fun and exciting. We are cooking our way around the globe and just finishing up Mexico with a Mango Tres Leches Cake. I think I was channeling my favorite teachers of Mexican cuisine Susan Feniger and Mary Sue Milliken of Too Hot Tamales. I miss those cooking shows that really taught me and helped build my knowledge in the kitchen.

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Mango Tres Leches “Celebration” Cake is perfect for a birthday or Cinco de Mayo

Are there any famous chefs that you have learned from and would like to meet? Wouldn’t it be great fun to travel  to the 2017 Vegas Uncork’d Expo food & wine event happening next week? Take a look at that celebrity chef schedule. Famous chefs like Gordon Ramsay and Giada de Laurentiis will be preparing their dishes alongside perfectly paired cocktails. There are a few I would love to learn from, but if I could only pick one my heart still belongs to Mary Sue & Susan as they opened up a whole new world of Mexican cuisine and especially cheeses to me.

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queso fresco on scrambled eggs makes a perfect pair

Speaking of cheese and back in my own kitchen I have been working on some new recipes for grilled cheese sandwiches. After a hard day in the garden cooking up something like a grilled cheese and dining out al fresco on the deck is an easy and delicious way to end the day. Heading into the warmer weather we often enjoy a cool glass of rosé wine with a grilled cheese sandwich. It’s a rustic perfect pairing, but who says wine has to be fancy? Rosé matches quite well with just about any cheese and bread. It’s not as elaborate as some famous celebrity chef dishes, but it works.

Cheers!

2014_Finalist_Burrata

Here is one of my winning cheese sandwiches from yesteryear. The salty bacon and olives with the sweetness of fruit, peppery arugula and luscious burrata pairs perfectly with a glass of Rosé.

Burrata & Bacon Ciabatta, Oh My

3 slices thick cut bacon

¼ cup apricot jam

1 (4-inch) ciabatta roll, toasted

2 tablespoons Mezzetta Napa Valley Bistro Homemade Style Basil Pesto

¼ cup arugula leaves

2 Mezzetta Sweet Cherry Peppers, seeded, diced

1-ounce burrata cheese (1/2 of a 2 ounce ball)

1 ripe apricot, sliced

4 pieces Mezzetta Sliced Greek Kalamata Olives, chopped

1-teaspoon balsamic vinegar syrup

Heat oven 400F. Line bottom of broiler pan with foil. Coat both sides of bacon with jam; place on broiler pan rack set over foil-lined bottom. Bake 30 minutes; transfer bacon to a plate. Spread bottom half of roll with pesto. Layer with arugula, cherry peppers, bacon, burrata, apricots and olives. Drizzle with balsamic. Cover with remaining bread slice.

 

 

Winter Blues & Spirited No Churn Ice Cream

IMG_9386Winter Blues. You got em? Let’s chase them away with homemade ice cream. Yup, you heard me! We’re making ice cream in the dead of winter. Seriously, it’s a mood changer because not only is it darn delicious, rich and creamy, but also done in 10 minutes (plus freezing time) and requires NO ice cream machine. I bet you’re smiling now. Remember my posts about cleaning stuff out? You just might want to pitch your old-dust-collecting- taking-up-way too-much-space ice cream machine after trying this recipe.

ice cream

All the flavors of one of my favorite candy bars this ice cream is rich with chocolate condensed milk and coconut creamy from the liqueur. It gets some toasty goodness from more coconut and almonds which you can fold in or just sprinkle on top like I did. Scoop it or slice it, it’s guaranteed to take those winter blues away.

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Almond Joy No-Churn Ice Cream

1 (14 oz) can Eagle Brand sweetened condensed milk, chocolate flavor

1 tablespoon unsweetened cocoa powder

2 tablespoons coconut cake liqueur

1 teaspoon coconut flavoring

1/8-teaspoon fine sea salt

2 cups heavy cream

¼ cup slivered almonds, toasted, cooled

2 tablespoons unsweetened shredded coconut, toasted, cooled

Line a 9-inch loaf pan with plastic wrap leaving a 4-inch over hang on short ends. Pour sweetened condensed milk into a large bowl. (Scrape it all out of that can with a rubber spatula.) Sift cocoa powdered over the top. Add liqueur, flavoring and salt. Using the spatula blend mixture until it is well mixed and smooth. In large mixer bowl, beat cream to just stiff peaks (do not over-mix or you will end up with butter). Stir about a cup of cream into chocolate mixture to lighten it up. Fold in remaining cream until fully incorporated. Pour mixture into prepared pan. Sprinkle top evenly with almonds and then coconut. Bring up the extended edges of plastic wrap and press gently over the surface. Freeze for 6 hours or as long as overnight. When ready to serve let ice cream stand at room temperature for 5 to 10 minutes to make scooping easier or remove from loaf pan, peel away plastic and cut into slices. Garnish as desired. Store leftovers tightly wrapped in plastic and an air-tight container.

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Love, Mom

Inspired & Spirited Birthday Dessert

all warm and melted Bill dug in before I could light the candle

all warm and melted Bill dug in to his sticky toffee pudding cake before I could light the candle

It was a good week celebrating Bill’s birthday with lunch at one of his favorite restaurants, The Whip Tavern, followed by dinner with Caitlin and Sam the day after. I was pretty certain what Bill wanted for his birthday dinner, but thought I’d ask anyway. Sure enough, “shrimp ‘n grits” followed by “sticky toffee pudding cake”.

Bill and Will in the Adirondaks

Bill and Will in the Adirondaks

The thought of shrimp n’ grits always brings me back to Charleston, SC. It was there that Bill and I last got to spend time with William. Just a few short days catching up and hanging out enjoying a little southern comfort. We also heard all about his future scout sniper training before we hugged and said good-bye.

very proud

very proud

Those days with Will are among our most priceless and I know this week Bill was missing that birthday phone call from his best buddy. He is working through his grief in his own quiet way and hopefully believing that Will is with us all the time, at least, in spirit.

first pheasant

first pheasant

And that spirit inspires me to create this dessert to celebrate Bill in a sweet way. Not a fan of dates? Sticky Toffee Pudding will change your mind, I guarantee!

Dark Muscovado sugar has a fine, moist texture with a high molasses content that blends well with strong coffee. I use the India Tree brand from Mauritius. Brandy plays well with both the dates and the coffee adding that spirited touch I love so much.

poke the holes through to the bottom of the cake

poke the holes through to the bottom of the cake

Inspired & Spirited Sticky Toffee Pudding Cake

8 ounces pitted dates, coarsely chopped

1 cup very hot strong coffee

1 tablespoon brandy

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 1/2 cups cake flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

6 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened

3/4 cup lightly packed dark Muscovado* sugar

1 teaspoon grated lemon zest

2 large eggs, room temperature

SAUCE

1 stick unsalted butter

1 cup lightly packed dark Muscovado* sugar

3/4 cup heavy cream

1 tablespoon brandy

Heat oven to 325 degrees. Spray (10) 1-cup ramekins with non-stick baking spray. Place dates in a bowl, pour coffee and brandy over dates; let soak 15 minutes. Stir in baking soda. Whisk together flour, baking powder, and salt. In large bowl, with an electric mixer on high, beat butter and sugar for 3 to 5 minutes or until fluffy. Reduce speed to medium, add lemon zest and beat in eggs, 1 at a time, until well mixed. Reduce speed to low; add half the flour mixture beating until combined. Add date mixture and remaining flour mixture, and beat until just combined. Scoop batter into ramekins filling about ¾ full; place on a baking sheet. Bake until cakes are puffed and spring back in center when gently pressed with a finger, about 30 minutes. Meanwhile, for sauce, combine butter, sugar, cream and brandy in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat to medium (so sauce does not boil over) and boil, stirring frequently, until sauce thickens, about 4 minutes. Remove cakes from oven. With a wooden skewer poke holes in cakes. Spoon half of hot sauce over cake (1 ½ tablespoons per cake) and let soak 20 minutes. Serve warm with remaining sauce and vanilla ice cream or whipped cream.

*Note: dark brown sugar can be used in place of muscovado

low boil of cream, brandy, butter and sugar

low boil of cream, brandy, butter and sugar