I currently live in Charlotte, NC and after spending 7 years as a personal chef and caterer, I am now happy to share my love of cooking with friends and family. My heart is in the kitchen, but my soul is in the stars!

Red, White, and Blue

I should have made it a point to do something really patriotic for July 4th like so many of you food bloggers did, but the truth of the matter is I just didn't. I opted instead to visit with friends and let them be in charge of cooking for a day. Even a chef-by-default person like me enjoys having someone else cook for them occasionally! In looking through my photo archives for something to blog about today I realized I could quite possibly redeem myself by posting about this dessert that I actually made a few weeks ago while I was home visiting my family.

I've been on this quest lately to find the perfect dessert. A dessert that not only looks impressive enough to serve to friends at a dinner party, but tastes equally as impressive. In my mind, I thought a dessert of this caliber needed to have alot of ingredients and be time consuming to prepare. In the end, I found that wasn't the case at all but we all know the old saying that hindsight is 20/20.

I downloaded a few recipes from the internet that I thought would fit the bill for my perfect dessert and I set about buying all of the (expensive) ingredients to prepare them and worked my way through the list. I guess about now you're wondering if maybe you missed my posts about these fabulous, wonderful desserts and you're scurrying around trying to find them on my blog (now aren't you?!). Don't bother looking because none of my perfect desserts made the final cut. Most of them were not even close to being considered for an extreme makeover. I am of the opinion that there are too many other recipes out there waiting to be tested to worry about tinkering with one that you didn't even really like in the first place so I shelved my quest for the perfect dessert for another day.

Taking inventory after my failed attempts, I realized I had a little bit of this and alot of that that needed to be used up. I wound up making a recipe by Nigella Lawson for Chocolate Raspberry Pavlova. It made perfect use of the egg whites and fresh raspberries that were languishing in my fridge not to mention the scraps of chocolate that were not enough to do anything else with. And guess what I found in the process??? guessed it. THE PERFECT DESSERT! It wasn't a complicated recipe. It didn't even require alot of ingredients. It looked impressive. It tasted great. It was perfect on so many levels! And I found it quite by accident.

The first time I prepared this recipe, I followed Nigella's instructions about using fresh raspberries but when I made it yet again for my parents, strawberries and blueberries looked the freshest so I used those and so it become the perfect dessert for July 4th. I ask you, can it get any more PERFECT??

If you haven't had the chance to become acquainted with Nigella, please make it a point to do so very soon. She's quite wonderful and inspiring in my opinion. Enjoy!!

* Exported from MasterCook *

Chocolate Raspberry Pavlova

Serving Size : 8
Categories : Dessert-Misc.

Amount Measure Ingredient -- Preparation Method
-------- ------------ --------------------------------
for the chocolate meringue base:
6 egg whites
1 cup granulated sugar
3 tablespoons best quality, unsweetened cocoa powder, sieved
1 teaspoon balsamic or red wine vinegar, or raspberry vinegar
2 oz bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
for the topping:
2 cups heavy cream
2 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
4 cups raspberries
2 tablespoons coarsely grated bittersweet chocolate -- (2 to 3)

Preheat the oven to 350 and line a baking tray with baking parchment.

Beat the egg whites until satiny peaks form, and then beat in the sugar a spoonful at a time until the meringue is stiff and shiny. Sprinkle over the cocoa and vinegar, and the chopped chocolate. Then gently fold everything until the cocoa is thoroughly mixed in. Mound on to a baking sheet in a fat circle approximately 9 inches in diameter, smoothing the sides and top. Place in the oven, then immediately turn the temperature down to 300 and cook for about 45 mins. When it's ready it should look crisp around the edges and on the sides and be dry on top, but when you prod the centre you should feel the promise of squidginess beneath your fingers. Turn off the oven and open the door slightly, and let the chocolate meringue disc cool completely.

When you're ready to serve, transfer to a big, flat-bottomed plate. Whip the cream with sugar and vanilla till thick but still soft and pile it on top of the meringue, then scatter over the raspberries. Coarsely grate the chocolate so that you get curls rather than rubble, as you don't want the raspberries' luscious colour and form to be obscured, and sprinkle haphazardly over the top, letting some fall, as it will, on the plate's rim.

"Inspired by Nigella Lawson"
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

P.S. photo by dear ole' Dad again :)

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Cooking is for the birds!

In addition to cooking for myself and countless catering clients, part of my weekly routine has become cooking for the birds. I have a hummingbird feeder that hangs amongst some shade trees at the end of my patio and I love watching the little buggers each morning and evening as they feed. At any given time there may be as many as 5 hummingbirds trying to feed. Sometimes one or two will eat in peace at the same time but most often it sounds like a helicopter landing pad out there as they become aggressive and swarm around protecting their rightful spot at the feeder. It amazes me how much these little guys can eat! I make 4 cups of food for them nearly every week. I wanted to post this recipe for hummingbird nectar as well as some interesting information that I found on this website so that maybe you too can enjoy watching them!

"The wing beat rate of hummingbirds varies by species, with the common Ruby-Throated Hummingbird averaging a wing beat of about 53 per second, seen by the human eye as a blur. The wings move in a figure eight pattern to produce the gravity-defying hover effect for which hummers are famous. The energy needs of this little bird are amazing - they must feed every 10 to 15 minutes throughout the day, consuming up to two thirds of their body weight in food. An important part of the hummingbird diet is sugar, from flower nectar, tree sap and, of course, backyard feeders.

Hummingbirds cannot smell and depend on their eyesight to seek out flowers and food sources. Inexpensive hummingbird feeders are readily available and will attract the busy little birds without the need for coloring the food - the bright red plastic and easy food source will keep them coming throughout the day. Since hummingbirds are territorial, you may want to hang two feeders - one in the back yard and one in the front, to accomodate as many hummingbirds as you can."

How to Make Hummingbird Food
by Jane Lake

Bee balm, honeysuckle, clematis, impatiens, phlox and fuchias are some of the common flowers that will attract hummingbirds to your garden. But hanging a hummingbird feeder where you can easily see it is probably the best way to observe the hummingbirds in action.

There's no need to buy expensive hummingbird nectar - make your own, from this simple hummingbird syrup recipe.

Hummingbird Nectar Recipe

1 part sugar/4 parts water

Boil the water first, then measure and add sugar, at the rate of 1/4 cup of sugar to 1 cup of water.

Let cool and store excess in refrigerator until ready to use.

Do not add food coloring, honey (which ferments), or artificial sweetener, which has no nutritional value.

You will need to clean your feeder every few days, with hot water and a mild (10%) bleach solution to inhibit mold. Rinse thoroughly before refilling with water syrup.

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It's rude to talk with your mouth full....

... so I'll just blog instead. A few days ago I was reading through some new blogs that I've added to my reading repertoire, one of which is called Baking Bites written by Nicole Weston. During my first visit to Nicole's blog, I scrolled through a couple of pages, ran across this post and was immediately hooked. I mean, c'mon....who wouldn't be hooked on the idea of rich, flaky puff pastry oozing with Nutella and chocolate chips, baked to golden perfection?

Nutella is one of those things that I know sits on the grocery store shelf. Right there next to the peanut butter. I see it there, beckoning to me, wanting me to take it home. I've never given in. Never. Well, okay...who am I kidding? I took a trip to Little Rock several weeks ago to visit the new Fresh Market and indulged in many things that never seem to make it into my grocery cart during a mundane shopping trip to Walmart. So now instead of cozying up next to the Great Value peanut butter, the Nutella sits on my pantry shelf looking at me ever so seductively each time I open the door. Whispering my name...but I wouldn't give in. I have will power, you know.

Said will power was tested again about two weeks ago while I was home for a visit with my family. It was my grandmother's birthday and the family spent the weekend at Watauga Lake to celebrate. We rented a cabin and my grandmother and aunt were responsible for stocking the kitchen with snacks. We were sitting on the deck having just finished gorging ourselves with chips and dip, Hershey's miniature candy bars, and Lord only knows what else when around the corner came my aunt dipping an apple wedge into a jar of what else but Nutella. Temptation at its finest. I'll admit that I fell off the will power wagon, I mean what's a birthday celebration at the lake without a couple of Nutella smeared bites of fruit? I could always get back on the 12 step program tomorrow.....

So, here I am walking the straight and narrow when I run across Nicole's post. I couldn't resist anymore. It was the end. My fight with temptation was over. I had lost the battle. Nicole's recipe includes the ingredients to make the pastry, but I cheated. I had a couple of sheets of puff pastry in the freezer that needed to be used. If you're going to fall off the wagon, you may as well cheat while you're doing it, eh? No miniature chocolate chips on hand either, but I was determined. Nothing was keeping me from my beloved Nutella any longer. Regular chips will do just fine, thank you. No hazelnuts? Who cares! Add a drizzle of honey just before serving and these buttery, flaky, oh-so-rich delicacies are enough to give you a trip to the moon.

I've copied Nicole's recipe below, but make sure you drop by her blog and see which addictions she causes you to succumb to!

Nutella Scrolls
3 cups all purpose flour
2 tbsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup butter, cold and cut into pieces
1 1/4 cups milk, cold
1/2 cup Nutella spread
1/2 cup mini chocolate chips
1/2 cup chopped hazelnuts (optional)

Preheat oven to 375F. Line a baking tray with parchment paper.
In a large bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder and salt. Rub in butter using your fingertips, until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs. The largest should be about the size of a large pea. Alternatively, you can combine these ingredients in a food processor and pulse to achieve crumbs, then transfer to a large bowl.
Make a well in the center of the flour mixture and pour in cold milk, gradually stirring with a butter knife or a fork until a soft dough forms.
Sprinkle dough with flour and turn out onto a lightly-floured surface. Knead lightly until smooth, then roll out to a 12×14 inch rectangle. If dough gets too soft or sticky, even with the extra flour, put in fridge to chill for 15 minutes.
Spread Nutella over dough, leaving a 2cm border along the longer edges, but going all the way to the end of the short edges of the rectangle. Sprinkle chocolate chips and hazelnuts, if using, evenly over Nutella.
Starting with a long end, roll up dough in a jelly-roll fashion. Using a sharp, serrated knife to gently cut the roll into 12 even slices. Use a damp paper towel in between slices to keep knife clean and press gently to avoid squishing the roll. Lay scrolls flat on prepared baking sheet, allowing about 1 inch between each.
Bake for about 20 minutes or until scroll are light gold. Stand for 5 minutes on tray before gently pulling apart. Serve warm.

Make 12.

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