Friends First Competitors Second

My favorite kitchen helper at work measuring out the hot chocolate mix

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.

one of the many beautiful pieces Shannon makes…customized with me in mind

High-Rise Banana Muffins

It’s that time of year that I like to clean out my cupboards, pantry and freezer. I pride myself on keeping my baking and cooking equipment organized, but by the end of 2018 everything seemed to be in a tangle.

Inspired by 3 over-ripe bananas discovered in the depths of my freezer it was time to use them up along with a bunch of random paper cupcake liners and near empty containers of spices and extracts. Baking some warm healthy muffins would help me clean things out. And bonus…we get delicious muffins for breakfast.

Today, I bring you a banana muffin that actually tastes like bananas. Tip: bake with over-ripe bananas for the very best flavor. Most muffins I have had in the past are loaded with spices, so they taste more like ginger or cinnamon or chai rather than fresh bananas. While this recipe has a touch of spice the banana flavor and aroma really comes through due to the addition of some banana extract. I love this McCormick brand because it truly does enhance the banana flavor without any weird artificial taste.

You will notice that this recipe starts at a high oven temperature of 425F. before dropping down to 350F. The initial high heat is what gives these muffins the high-rise. As for mixing…you know the drill. Mix the dry ingredients with the wet just until moistened, so they bake up tender. Please feel free to toss in any other healthy ingredients you like. I’m a freak for chia seeds, but some toasted nuts could be good for a bit of crunch

1 cup King Arthur all-purpose flour

½ cup King Arthur white whole wheat flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

1 teaspoon baking soda

½ teaspoon kosher salt

½ teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg

3 over-ripe bananas (frozen and thawed)

1/2 cup packed light brown sugar (or 3/4 cup if you like them sweeter)

6 tablespoons coconut or avocado oil

1 egg

2 teaspoons McCormick banana extract

1 tablespoon chia seeds

Heat oven 425F. Line muffin tin with paper liners. In medium bowl, whisk both flours, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon and nutmeg; set aside. Peel thawed bananas over a large bowl, catching any excess liquid. With electric mixer on low mash up the bananas. Add brown sugar, coconut or avocado oil, egg, extract and chia seeds; blend well. Add dry ingredients and blend at low speed just until moistened and batter is smooth. Divide batter evenly among muffin cups. Bake for 5 minutes and then turn down oven to 350F. Bake 15 to 17 minutes or until wooden pick comes out clean. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Spirited Jam Session

 

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Who can resist an entire basket of fresh peaches for only $2.00? Not me! Husband immediately ordered up a peach crisp with the rest destined to be cooked into jam. First order of business is the peeling, pitting and slicing of the fruit. It is a days work, but very worth it. Sadly, peaches don’t peel themselves. To easily peel them they require a quick dip in boiling water and then a plunge into an ice water bath to loosen the skins.

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Now raise your hand if you have ever had the drink called a fuzzy navel? It’s a combination of Peachtree schnapps and orange juice. A sweet girly drink, served on the rocks, it was quite a popular libation soooo many decades ago. I happen to have a dusty (“cough cough” a very dusty) bottle of the schnapps in the back of the pantry and thought it just might mix well with the peaches in a jam. Amazing how liquor never goes bad and a spirited recipe comes to life. ❤

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Jam is pretty easy to make. Basically, all the ingredients into the pot, stirring and boiling until it is done. And it’s done when it passes the jell test. Place a few drops on an ice cold plate, wait about 10 seconds. Tilt the plate and make sure it doesn’t run, but stays in a bead form.

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not ready

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not ready

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READY!

Ladle it into sterilized jars and seal. Plunge the sealed jars back into a boiling water bath for 10 minutes. Think about how good this will taste come fall and winter. A summer peach pick-me-up.

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Properly sealed jars will last for a year in the pantry.

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Spirited Peach Jam

4 pounds fresh peaches, peeled, pitted and chopped (4 ½ cups after prep)

½ cup Peachtree schnapps

2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

3 cups sugar

1/2 box (1.75 oz) Sure Jell Fruit Pectin for less sugar needed recipes

1-teaspoon butter

In medium saucepan, combine peaches, schnapps and lemon juice. Mix ¼ cup of the sugar with the pectin in a small bowl and then stir into the fruit. (Note: mixing the pectin with some of the sugar prevents clumping).  Add butter and bring mixture to a full rolling boil on high heat, stirring constantly to avoid scorching on the bottom of the pan. Stir in remaining sugar and return to full rolling boil. Boil 1 minute and then test the jam for jelling. Ladle jam into prepared sterilized jars and seal as directed per Sure Jell instructions.

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Make plenty and enjoy. Happy 4th of July Week. I hope you are surrounded by those you love most. ❤