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

Sparkling Emerald Palmer

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The kids are back to school, but summer is hardly over. Celebrate with one more picnic, BBQ or deck party. Today’s recipe is my second entry in the Steviva Blogger Recipe Challenge. It’s my new go-to summer drink which can also be dressed up for any upcoming holiday parties.

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Never a fan of green juice you might wonder how I came up with this emerald beauty. Well, I am a huge fan of the drink called an Arnold Palmer. It’s a mix of lemonade and iced tea. I wanted a healthier version that would still quench my thirst, but eliminate all the sugar. While I was at it I thought I could boost the flavor profile and health benefits with fresh cucumbers and mint from my garden and a touch of matcha tea.

 

The drink gets its sweetness from Nectevia. Nectevia is made from organic agave nectar that is enhanced with stevia. It’s 4x sweeter than sugar, safe for diabetics, Kosher, non-GMO and easily dissolves in liquids. It has a clean refreshing sweetness with no bitter after taste. It’s perfect for sweetening beverages like my Sparkling Emerald Palmer. Cheers!

Sparkling Emerald Palmer

1 medium organic (unwaxed) cucumber, ends trimmed (do not peel), chopped

1 tablespoon chopped fresh mint leaves

2½ cups cold water

¼ cup fresh lime juice

¼ cup fresh lemon juice

¼ cup Nectevia or more to taste

1 teaspoon matcha green tea powder

chilled sparkling water, club soda, prosecco or champagne

fresh mint, lime slices, fresh raspberries for garnish

In a blender, combine chopped cucumber, mint and ½ cup of water; blend until mixture is smooth. Add remaining water, lime and lemon juice, Nectevia and green tea powder; blend until mixture is very smooth. Strain, if desired. Pour into ice-filled glasses or shake with ice and strain into flutes. Top with sparkling water or prosecco. Garnish edge of glass with a fresh lime slice and sprig of mint. Float raspberries in glass, if desired. 

For more information and recipes check out these steviva brands links.

Website: https://www.steviva.com/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/steviva

Twitter: https://twitter.com/steviva

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/stevivabrands/

Pinterest: https://www.pinterest.com/stevivabrands/

Thank you Stevia Brands for this fun opportunity to play with my food and drinks. A toast to you.

Also… if you want to take advantage of a 20% discount Please use coupon code: THANKYOU when checking out of our on-line store at http://steviva.com/store/

 

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What I Miss & Perfect Pairs

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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!

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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.