Saturday, April 28, 2012

Nutella Chocolate Cheesecake

Nutella Chocolate Cheescake- Enjoy!

It has been a crazy few weeks. I received a last minute offer on my house and that has put me into a kind of frenzy.  I have been packing, sorting, tossing and stressing!  If you have read my "About" section, you already know when times get tough I head to the kitchen! It is in my blood, I can't help it. So here I am in "kitchen therapy" mode making something delicious for no other reason than to clear my mind and loose myself in the process.  Not only does stress make me bake, it also makes me want chocolate. So what better than a Nutella Chocolate Cheesecake. This recipe has been on my "To Do List" for some time and I pulled it out this week, got the ingredients, turned on some Florence and the Machine, Arctic Monkeys and the National and got to work. The steps of a recipe to me combined with the hum of the mixer and the upbeat music lifts my spirits. And as always I am accompanied by my best friend, and kitchen helper, Charlie.

My ever-present best friend

I guess in the back of my mind I have always known, but this year I have really identified that fact that I love making and doing things with my hands; baking, gardening, knitting and even my everyday job requires using my hands to make a difference. And that is exactly what I have done for myself this year, I have made a difference.

What was I worried about again??

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

The Ultimate Coconut Cake

One of my favorite places to vacation here in the southeast is Charleston, SC. It is a quick ride from my home and it is the one place in SC that I really feel my spirit soar. I have always loved being near water and the ocean and Charleston offers this escape to me. As I drive over the bridges into Isle of Palms (my favorite local beach), I can feel all the tension leave me and I am truly happy!  During the day, I enjoy sitting on the beach at IOP for hours, shelling, and just enjoying the sun.  At night there is alway somewhere to listen to live music or sit outside and enjoy a cocktail under the stars. The Charleston area is also known for its southern heritage and historic downtown. I love walking Charleston; usually camera in hand and a spring in my step.  I get lost in the wrought iron gated gardens, the majestic oaks trees, the old buildings and the history. I have walked the streets of downtown Charleston so many times I can almost visit them in my sleep. I have to say that it is my Happy Place!

My favorite beach. You can't see but I am smiling!
Aside from all the natural beauty that Charleston has to offer, it is also a foodie's paradise. You can dine on fresh seafood, handmade pasta and of course good 'ole southern cuisine.  There is literally a food establishment every few feet in some of the downtown areas and the experiences range from casual dining all the way up to fine dining. I have frequented a lot of the restaurants in the downtown area as well as in Mount Pleasant and Isle of Palms and I definitely have my favorites depending on the occasion. Unfortunately, I tend to be a  creature of habit at times and when I get to visit my favorite city, I like the nostalgic feeling of visiting my favorite restaurants, Magnolias for shrimp and grits, Poe's Tavern for a great beach side burger, The Rooftop at Vendue Range for a late night cocktail, and Hominy Grill for just about anything on the menu  (don't forget the goat cheese and hot pepper jelly.) And this is just to name a few.  But after visiting all my favorites, the long weekend is usually over and once again I have forgotten to visit new places. The restaurant that I have always wanted to visit and have heard so much about is the Peninsula Grill. It is a great little restaurant tucked away beside The Market in Peninsular Charleston and  it is famous for it's Ultimate Coconut Cake. I have watched Food Network specials on this cake and every time I go to Charleston I am set on going to get a piece; but never quite make it. So when I saw this recipe online on Martha Stewart's web page,  I thought why not make this "cake masterpiece" myself and share the experience with all my friends.
So here began a rather large task...

Friday, April 20, 2012

Salted Chocolate- Caramel Turtle Ice Cream Sandwiches

Salted Chocolate- Caramel Turtle Ice Cream Sandwiches

This past fall, I was looking for a recipe to make some cookies for a friend.  I wanted something with that salty /sweet combo that is so popular right now and it definitely had to include chocolate. After looking, I stumbled upon this recipe on one of my favorite blogs: How Sweet It Is. I made the cookies and they were amazing. The night that I made them, was before a long trip.  After I had packed and prepared, I sat down with a bowl of vanilla ice cream and two of these cookies. They had a little chewiness due to the caramel, crunch from the pecan and every once in a while you would bite into a salt crystal. Delish! It dawned on me at that time that these cookies would make great ice creams sandwiches with a caramel ice cream that I had made before. The cookies needed to be a little bigger for sandwiches and why not add more caramel to balance the strong chocolate cookie. My wheels were turning......... this little gem is what I came up with!

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Mom's Tomato Sauce

Mom's Tomato Sauce

Since we are just putting tomatoes in the ground this week,  I know that this is not the typical time to make tomato sauce from homegrown tomatoes, but I kind of have a trick here. As I have said before, my garden is not huge and to make this sauce you need a 1/2 bushel of tomatoes for Step 1 and then you need 3 dozen Paste or Roma tomatoes for Step 2. That is a lot of tomatoes to produce in a few days just for this sauce (and have enough to eat daily. I don't know about you but when my tomatoes come in, I am tomato obsessed! I eat them at every meal.)

As per my mom's suggestion, I have always frozen whole tomatoes. I just cut out the stem and then freeze them whole in Ziploc bags. Then when a recipe called for canned tomatoes for soup or chili in the winter, I just pull out some of my frozen and run them under really hot tap water. The skin peels right off in your hand (this is a great tip.)  I was freezing tomatoes as they were harvested and I began to wonder if I could use the frozen tomatoes after I had the specified 1/2 a bushel and make this sauce?? So here begins my experiment! 

Before starting, I thought I would ask my resources, my parents both thought it would work and unfortunately Grandma Ethel was no longer with us but I knew that she was cheering for me. I began freezing Ziploc bags of tomatoes as I picked them.  I would weigh the bags and write the weight on the outside of the bag. Then I would put them in the bottom shelf of my deep freeze freezer. I would bag the paste tomatoes separately in 1 dozen bags. When I got the designated amount of tomatoes, I was ready to go. So at this point, I proceeded with the recipe that is below and it was a huge success. I have been making it this way for years. So if this method works for you, Great!  Another alternative would be to visit your local farmer and buy tomatoes from him/her. They will be happy to have your business and you will know exactly where your tomatoes came from.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Grandma Ethel's Fruit Salad

Grandma's Fruit Salad

This is another one of those recipes that I must have on a holiday for it to really be special- my Grandma Ethel's fruit salad. This salad in not hard to make and it is the perfect sweet accompaniment to any dinner.  We  always ate it as a side dish not dessert. It allows for a little bit of sweetness in an otherwise savory meal. As a child, this was the special dish that I waited for on special occasions and one of the main reasons was it's "cherry factor."  I told you I love cherries. My Grandma always knew this and would add just a few extra (a whole jar) for my sister and me.
One of the special memories that I have of my Grandma Ethel was the numerous family dinners that she had for holidays. At her house,she had this huge dining table stuck in this little room. There would be 12 or more people around the table, but once everyone got seated no one could get up or out of the room. We were in there tight.  My sister and I would have special seats; one on either side of Grandma. Everyone would sit, eat and talk; passing the dishes along, person to person, family style. Once everyone got their share, the fruit salad would always end up back in front of my Grandma. She would then proceed to pick cherries out of the remaining salad and give them to my sister and me. Our parents would give us a disapproving look and protest mildly but Grandma always won and so did we!

Monday, April 9, 2012

Hollywood Squares

Hollywood Square

At my high school, there was always a special dessert that we all loved. It was the Hollywood Square! I am not sure where the crazy name came from other than that Game Show that was on in the 80's but I do know that this dessert would be enough to get the majority of the student body standing in the lunch line. And that was no small feat! After my high school years, I still talked about this dessert and on occasion when I was home for a break from college, my Mom who still worked as a teacher in the school district, would bring one home for me . After I had moved to South Carolina, she called one day and said she had emailed me a surprise. It was the Hollywood Square recipe. The lady who brought the recipe into our high school lives was retiring and since she knew it was every one's favorite, she decided to share the recipe as her farewell gift. We are all very appreciative!

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Rosemary Deviled Eggs

So what is Easter without Deviled Eggs? I have become somewhat of the deviled egg lady in my group. One of my best friends questions during summer activities is: are you making deviled eggs? It think that this is funny because my  Mom was also the Deviled Egg lady in her circle. I learned my technique from her but I have tweaked it a bit over the years to make it my own. I am not sure why people think that these little bites of heaven are hard to make! They are simple and fairly cheap to make as compared to a lot of other dishes.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Bourbon Peach Jam

Jam! What is more reminiscent of summer! I started to make jams and jellys when I was about 15 years old. I thought it would be a great gift to give to friends, my parents and grandparents. My mom was supportive of this effort and while she had some experience, she was not the pro. I began with strawberry jam, then peach. All things went well. But as I have said before I am a self-proclaimed lover of all things cherry. We were at the farmers market and I saw a huge basket of Bing cherries. I thought they would be the best thing for my new jam obsession. We got them and took them home and that weekend I set out to make some fabulous cherry jam. I was so excited so I decided to triple the recipe!!! Big mistake! What I ended up with was amazing cherry flavored syrup. The jam never set up. My mom's first response was to call Grandma Ethel. Grandma quickly told me to never change a jam or jelly recipe. You can make multiple batches but these recipes do not double or triple with great success. I hold that lesson and memory in my head today. This was by far not my last kitchen failure but definitely my first and I will remember it for a long time.

Chocolate Chip Pecan Banana Muffins

Chocolate Chip Pecan Banana Muffins
 With this recipe I have made in mini muffins, jumbo Texas-style muffins or mini loafs to give as Christmas gifts. It is very versitile and very easy since most times I have all the ingredients on hand. I tend to buy a bunch of bananas and then after eating about three,  I get tired of them and the rest quickly ripen so I throw them in the freezer. Every time I think that I can not fit one more ripened banana in my freezer, I make a batch of this recipe. It is a "comfort dessert" at its best.

Ready to get mixing!
When I make this bread, I like to add whole wheat flour. I like the Hodgson Mill Whole Wheat Flour. I think that it adds a nice nutty crunch to the top of the muffin. If you like your muffins more moist or traditional, you can skip the whole wheat flour and use the same amount of regular flour. Also if you don't like nuts or chocolate omit them as well. Like I said this recipe is versitle and after much experimentation, the recipe that I am presenting here is what gives me the YUM! factor.

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