Friday, April 12, 2019

Hearts and Crafts: DIY Serving Boards

I recently purchased some bamboo cutting boards for the kitchen.  I wanted to 'trick it out' a bit to give it more personality and eye appeal.  I thought it would be cool to add some stencil work, but couldn't find anything suitable in the particular store I was in at the time.
When I arrived home, I decided to test out my idea by flipping the board over and practicing my design and testing the furniture markers I had purchased for the project.  I started with some freehand diamond shapes, because the tape I purchased to create the design, wasn't the proper tape and would not even remotely stay in place!  It was putting a damper on my creativity, but I kept on going.

My assistant, Aaron,  also aware of my current endeavor, came in with a brilliant idea, using a six pack ring as a stencil, with the positive and negative spaces seeming ideal for a contemporary and unique style. To my pleasant surprise, the design came out well.  I used coconut oil to finish the serving board after allowing it to sit. I have since set out on a search for even more "stencils" to adorn the flip sides of  my cutting boards.

I allowed the design to set for over 24 hours.  I also wiped the board with hot soapy water on a cloth and wiped dry.  I plan to do more serving and displays from this side more than anything.  I was concerned about possible transfer of substances, but after a bit of research, I decided it was safe enough considering the wood is actually stained and there was no further bleeding or wipe off.  Besides, I wouldn't want to damage the artwork.  I'm sure my next one will be even better. The imperfections of my first finished board add to its custom, hands-on flare.  These make wonderful personalized gifts too!

With Mother's Day coming up, this idea is a sure bet.  My sister Linda wants one and I can't wait to come up with her something that she will love.  I have 6 more sisters, so I may just opt for a series of smaller ones, that all fit the same motif, almost like a puzzle, with each one of them having a piece. Fitting, because all of my sisters and my two remaining brothers have a piece of my heart, and we are all a part of the big picture, created by 2 masterful artists; Mom and Dad, Douglas and Laura. My Dad is now my Guardian Angel and my Mom is my angel in this world, almost 80 years strong, my muse and my integral part of my heart and the reason it beats.

My personally customized boards shown with the Earlywood ™ Trifecta. I gifted these to myself for Xmas.

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

White Chocolate Carrot Cake Cupcakes

Spring has sprung and what better way to welcome its sunshine and blooms than with a delicious and Bettertarian version of this classic.  There are a few exchanges in this recipe that brighten and lighten without going skinny on taste.  The family received the recipe well and that makes it worthy to share with you.
 Organic coconut flour, flax meal and hulled hemp seeds really add depth, texture, flavor and wholesome goodness to a fantastically balanced treat. These cupcakes can be enjoyed with or without frosting, making it even more versatile and suitable for just about all dietary types.

2 1/3 c. AP flour
1/2 c. organic coconut flour
1/3 c. flax meal
2 tbsp. hulled hemp seeds
2 c. pure cane sugar
2 tsp.pumpkin pie spice
2 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. salt or to taste
1 1/3 c. canola oil
2/3 c. buttermilk
2 large eggs
1 1/2 c. freshly grated carrot
20 oz. crushed pineapple, well drained
1 c. chopped white baking chocolate
1/4 c. chopped pecans
1 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
1/2 tsp. cacao extract, optional

Preheat oven to 350*F.
Combine dry ingredients, mixing well in a medium bowl.
In another large bowl, cream sugar, oil, buttermilk and eggs until evenly blended and smooth.
Slowly add dry ingredients to creamed mixture, careful not to over mix, but stirring to incorporate ingredients well.
Once all dry ingredients are incorporated, fold and stir in carrot, pineapple, white chocolate and pecans.
Line cupcake pans with cups and fill 2/3 full.
Bake for 20 minutes or until toothpick inserted comes out clean.
Cool for several minutes then transfer to cooling rack to cool completely and clear up space for baking remaining cupcakes if needed.
Makes 3 dozen.

1 lb. confectioner's sugar
4 oz. Neufchatel
2 tbsp. butter
pinch of salt
1 tsp. vanilla
1/2 tsp. cacao extract

Blend cream cheese and butter.
Add salt.
Gradually add sugar and beat until light and fluffy.
Add extracts and continue until cohesive.
If too thick, you may add a teaspoon or so of buttermilk to make desired spreading consistency.

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

No Bake, Walking Cheesecakes

Cheesecake is one of those desserts you just can't go wrong with when looking to satisfy your sweet tooth.
Sometimes, we shy away from treats like this, thwarting the urge to overindulge.  With this quick and easy recipe, portion control is literally in the palm of your hand.  There are a couple of ways I made this recipe, the one below is the quickest, but also very gratifying.
An added plus of this recipe is a dramatic cut of fat and calories, by using a cake cup, instead of a traditional graham cracker and butter crust and the amount of filling that goes into the cup.  This is a part of a movement I refer to as "Bettertarian Cuisine".  We'll go further into detail on what Bettertarian Cuisine is in future posts, so let's get back to this gem of a dessert.  This was quite popular with my tween age girls. Kids respond more positively to food that they've had a part in preparing!
You can have a Walking Cheesecake Bar by offering a variety of toppings like strawberry, blueberry, caramel, fresh berries , candied walnuts,etc... and let each person customize their cheesecake to fit their needs. More cherries? no problem, no cherries? piece of cake, the possibilities are many fold and guaranteed to be just right. Creamy, light, crunchy and satisfying all at once.  Easy, Elevated and Delish!

Boxed no bake cheesecake mix
Pie filling of choice, chilled
Cake cups
Pastry bag, or resealable bag with corner snipped

Prepare the cheesecake mix according to directions on box and place in piping vessel of choice.
Chill for 2 hours.
When ready, pour graham cracker crust crumbs into a small bowl.
Dip cone rim into a small bowl of milk, water or melted butter, then dip into graham cracker crumbs.
Pipe the filling into cone to desired height and garnish with topping of choice.
These treats are made to order, so there's no waste and less waist! ;)

French Onion Bread Bowl w/ Fresh Dill and Cheddar

A fast and simple way I like to dress up the normal menu is by using a loaf of herbed bread as a bowl.  In just a few simple steps, your friends and family will be impressed and you can be the 'Belle' or 'Ben' of the ball(game that is!) or your next gathering.  This recipe shows a french onion dip, but you may fill it with whatever your heart desires. Add some fresh herbs and a sprinkle of cheese/cheeses or even toasted bread crumbs from the center of the loaf, for added flavor and texture. Cater the size bread needed, to the amount of filling you will have or use smaller bread vessels to spread around the table. Day old or more bread would be easier to cut and manipulate.  Easy, Elevated and Delish. 
A loaf of French Bread of choice
A small paring knife
Your favorite dip, store bought or homemade
Fresh Herbs
Cheese, optional

Using the paring knife, cut out center of bread to about 1 inch from the edge, lengthwise, about 1/2 inch the other way.
Hollow out bread roughly 1 inch to 1 1/2 inches into the loaf.
Fill with dip of choice.
Garnish as desired.
Serve with crudites, assorted chips,(bagel, pita) etc. 

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Southern Style Braised Cabbage w/ Country Ham, 'Soul Food' Sides for Thanksgiving

This is a Southern American dish inspired by my mom's love of cabbage.  Next to sweet potatoes and Creamy Potato Soup, this is a favorite.  Pork does not have to be used in this recipe. It does however, have roots in the original preparation of fried and braised cabbages, either from Old World Ireland or dishes in the  Americas.
 I am a fan of using other smoked goodies like turkey necks, legs and wings.
After the cooking process, the skin may be removed and the meat shredded and tossed with finished product for a one bowl/dish meal, hearty and full of history, delicious to the body and soothing for the soul.
Cabbage was recorded in literary memoirs as early as the late 1400's, but shows roots in or around 1150 in Germany.  During earlier centuries, cabbage was referred to as "Coleworts"  It came in with the settlers to Jamestown and has been a considerable part of sustenance from day one. The cultivating properties and abundance served as food for humans as well as animals.
1 head of cabbage, rough chopped into chunks, large outer leaves removed, about 3lbs.
2 medium onions, quartered
2 cloves garlic, smashed
1 portion country ham, about 2oz. cooked
ham bone, optional
chicken/veggie stock or water
Olive oil
SPST (Salt and Pepper to Suit Taste)
Over medium high heat in a large heavy bottomed vessel, drizzle in some olive oil and add onions and country ham portion and bone.
Cook until fragrant and caramelization is evident, about 4 minutes and add cabbage.
Saute for several minutes, then add chicken/veggie stock or water until cabbage is covered, add garlic here, then cover with lid.
Bring up to a boil, then reduce to medium heat.
Cook until cabbage is tender and liquid is reduced by more than half, about 45 minutes.
Check seasoning as it cooks and adjust accordingly.
Remove ham portion, shred, then re-add to cabbage.
Remove ham portion completely if desired.
Serves many.

Friday, August 10, 2018

Peach Cobbler at Its Peak!

Nothing says summer like a quick and easy peach cobbler, smack dab in the middle of Peach season.  The intoxicating aroma wafting through the air is akin to that of living beside a bakery!  With this no fuss recipe, you will have your family members thinking you baked all day!  With the help of two store bought, roll out pie crusts, and maybe a pat of flour on your cheek, no one will be the wiser!  Don't get me wrong, If time permits, a homemade crust is awesome, a flaky and warming exhibition of your dedication to a dish.
 By all means, use your valuable time measuring and chilling dough, when it can be as easy as PIE, pun definitely intended.  Either way you slice it, this recipe is  worth a try, you''ll be glad you did!

7 large peaches, peeled, and sliced to about 1/4 inch to 1/2 slices, about 7 cups`1
2 9 inch pie crusts
1/2 c. brown sugar or to taste, depending on sweetness of peaches
1/4 c. corn starch
1 tsp. vanilla bean paste
1 tsp. cinnamon
Fair Pinch of salt
juice of one lemon
1 egg, beaten
4 tbsp. unsalted butter
Sugar for sprinkling.
Preheat oven to 350*F.
Spray or grease baking vessel before pressing in crust 1.
Mix all dry ingredients together and toss with peaches.
Fold in/Stir in vanilla and lemon juice.
Pour Contents into vessel and add crust 2 and dot with half of butter.
Be sure to ventilate top crust!
Brush top crust with egg wash.
Sprinkle with sugar and a dusting of cinnamon.
Dot top with remaining butter.
Bake until crust is golden and cobbler is bubbly and fragrant, about 40 minutes.
Let stand for about 10 minutes before serving.
Serves Plenty.  Great with a scoop of vanilla ice cream!

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

Grilled Pink Shrimp w/ Fresh Peaches, Dry Vermouth and Vacation Memoirs

Shrimp is best when fresh and infused with fresh and bright flavors.  These beautiful Wild Caught Argentine Pink Shrimp are large and ready to take on the marinade and grill smoke with fantastic vigor.  The peaches were part of our take home home haul from this wonderful and well stocked farm stand in Clarksville, Va.
 We were fortunate enough to be within 1 mile of this gem, Moore's Farm Stand, I believe it was called, while staying at a nearby hotel, Hotel Magnusson on the Lake on vacation.  They had the most amazing fresh cherries, we snacked on while making the trip back home.  The Purple Cherokee tomatoes were bright and juicy, tasting of summertime ripening in every bite.   The peaches were spectacular, full of fantastic flavor and fragrance.  They even had some Mountain Butter, which I picked up a pound of to bring home as well. 
This was the second part of our rejuvenating  5 day trip that started in Scottsburg at Staunton River State Park.  The  cabins there are so cozy and peaceful.
We cooked our gooses at the facility swimming pool with family visiting from Niagara, New York for the week.
After several days, we parted ways  and continued down to Buggs Island Lake.
The James River is just beyond the trees.

Our temporary home away from home.

There's a massive pool at this park, with full concessions and shop!

Our first guest/greeter at the cabin!

Moore's Farm Stand

Hotel Magnusson on the Lake

View of Buggs Island Lake

Clarksville, known for being Virginia's only lake town, and is home to where the world record for the largest  blue catfish caught was documented, around 5 feet long and 148 pounds, talk about one heck of a fish fry!
These shrimp did not win any accolades to my knowledge, until this recipe that is.  I received rave reviews from my family, which means the world to me.  The kids spare me no remorse when it comes to my recipe development and execution.  I admire that.  They know I am serious about my work and demand their openness and objectivity.
My youngest daughter Bronwyn will tell me "Mom, this is good, but not your best" or "Yeah, this roast chicken looks a bit dry, but it tastes good".  Kids. They are proud of their MasterChef tryouts Mom, and are my biggest fans. My family is ever supportive in my endeavors.  They love my books and smile when they recite some parts by heart.  They know they have high school/ after school job security at my bistro/cafe, even though it doesn't exist yet!  They have Faith, as do I.

1-2 lb.bag pink shrimp, 16/20 count
1 fresh peach, sliced, about 1/2 c.
1/2 c. extra dry White Vermouth
1/2 c. unsweetened pineapple juice
1 tbsp. Old Bay Garlic and Herb
1 sauce
1 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
pinch of red pepper flakes
zest and juice of half fresh lemon
2 cloves garlic, pressed or finely minced
Palm full of fresh herbs, like parsley, dill and mint, rough chopped
Place all ingredients in bag except shrimp, and shake to blend.
Add shrimp and marinate 30 minutes to 4 hours.
Don't worry, these large shrimp won't turn to mush in the marinade!
When ready, drain and discard marinade.
Grill Shrimp over hot charcoal and serve as appetizers for a small gathering, beside a nice grilled steak or alongside a fresh mixed green salad with sliced peaches and almond slivers or pecans! There's no wrong way to do delish!