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!

My Sweet Tater Friends

Several months ago, one of the ladies who works in my catering kitchen was passing around one of those fund-raiser order forms to help her kids raise money for school. You know the ones I'm talking about....the "I feel obligated to buy something or else I'll look like a miser" fund-raiser. I thumbed through the catalog pages wondering what useless trinket I'd end up with this time when, to my delight, I realized that magazines had been added to the fund-raising repertoire! I gladly shelled out my $12 for a year's subscription to Bon Appetit and anxiously waited for the first issue to arrive.

The October issue didn't disappoint. I've ear-marked several great recipes that I hope to blog about very soon but for now I want to share this dessert with you, my "Sweet Tater Friends." I've copied the recipe verbatim from the magazine's website and I didn't make any changes when I prepared it. While the flan was baking, I was thinking that maybe I should have kicked it up a notch by adding some cinnamon or nutmeg or just something because you foodies know what I'm talking about when I say I can't help but screw around with a perfectly good recipe. In the end, I'm glad that I didn' turned out to be a perfectly smooth and creamy blend of flavors (I know my picture makes this look anything BUT perfect, but I'm working on taking better photos!) I did, however, run across this nifty idea for decorating the flan for Halloween. If I can make one suggestion to you, it would be to keep your eye on the caramel when you turn it to high heat. If you take your eyes off of it, you'll end up with something that resembles black strap molasses and smells equally as unattractive (listen to the voice of experience...) Oh, and also, I cut the baking time by 15 minutes. When I checked the flan at 45 minutes, it was perfect, so do pay attention to that as well. Bon Appetit!

Sweet Potato Flan

1 large red-skinned sweet potato (about 12 ounces)
1 cup sugar, divided
2 tablespoons water
1 cup half and half
4 large eggs
1/2 cup whipping cream
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons tawny Port

Preheat oven to 350°F. Pierce sweet potato with fork; roast until tender, 1 to 1 1/2 hours, depending on width of potato. Cool. Cut potato in half and scoop flesh into mini processor; puree until smooth. Measure 1 cup puree (reserve any remaining puree for another use). Maintain oven temperature.

Stir 1/2 cup sugar and 2 tablespoons water in medium saucepan over medium-low heat until sugar dissolves. Increase heat to high and boil without stirring until syrup turns deep amber, occasionally swirling pan and brushing down sides with wet pastry brush, about 5 minutes. Immediately pour caramel into 8-inch-diameter metal cake pan, leaving about 2 tablespoons caramel in saucepan. Using pot holders, swirl cake pan, allowing caramel to coat bottom and about 1/2 inch up sides.

Add half and half to remaining caramel in saucepan. Stir over medium-low heat until caramel dissolves. Whisk eggs in medium bowl until frothy. Whisk in cream, salt, 1 cup sweet potato puree, and remaining 1/2 cup sugar. Gradually whisk in hot half and half mixture. Strain into same saucepan. Stir over medium heat 1 minute. Remove from heat; whisk in Port. Pour custard into prepared cake pan.

Place cake pan in large roasting pan. Add enough hot water to roasting pan to come halfway up sides of cake pan. Bake until just set in center, about 1 hour. Remove flan from water. Chill until cold, about 5 hours. DO AHEAD: Can be made 1 day ahead. Cover; keep chilled.

Dip bottom and 1 inch up sides of cake pan into pan of hot water 15 seconds. Wipe dry. Invert onto rimmed plate, scraping caramel in pan over flan.

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Your Three Words

I'm sure that you are aware of the noticeable absence from my blog these past couple of months. Some of my readers already know the reasons for my spotty and nonexistent posts, but for those of you who don't, let me just say that a few months ago the earth tilted on its axis and wreaked havoc on my personal life. In an effort to reposition the world as I know it, I'm returning to the blog world. After all, my main reasons for starting this blog in the first place were to help find my seemingly lost inspirations. Inspiration is a funny day it's here and the next day it can't be found anywhere so I do appreciate your dedication in hanging with Someone's In The Kitchen during these dust-gathering months.

Earlier this week, I was listening to my favorite radio talk show hosts, Bob and Sheri, when they started talking about this compelling video that aired on ABC's Good Morning America where people summarize their lives in three words.

Bob and Sheri started taking calls from listeners who wanted to summarize their lives in three words and it got me to thinking...what would my three words be? I thought about it long and hard over the next couple of days and came up with several different choices, each one reflecting the various moods I've seemed to experience this week. When all was said and done this week, the three words that I would use to summarize my life as it stands now would be....."I Won't Settle."

But some of us are prone to change our mind as often as the wind blows, and so this morning I decided that I should change my summation to "Cooking Is Life." Why? Just think about it..... There I stood staring into the crowded abyss that is my refrigerator and I realized that each morning I wake up wondering, "What's the plan for the day?" much like I stood there wondering what was on the menu for dinner. A quick glance of the fridge contents revealed left overs from last week's meals nestled beside new additions from this week's grocery shopping. Subconsciously, I was thinking about how cleaning out the fridge is like cleaning up your life. You salvage what you can of the old and combine it with the new and cook up something fresh and exciting.

I pulled out an almost forgotten piece of left over roast and commenced to turning it into Tarragon Beef Stew with Vermouth, a recipe that I snagged from Allrecipes earlier today. When cooking, as in life, you have to roll with the flow, use that you've got on hand, and spice things up with a few additions that weren't expected. Even though I followed the suggestions of other reviewers and decreased the amount of liquid called for in the original recipe, it turned out more like soup than stew, albeit a good soup. I have a feeling it will be better tomorrow after the flavors have a chance to meld. I had dry vermouth on hand instead of sweet, dried tarragon instead of fresh, and regular potatoes were substituted for new potatoes. Click here for the original recipe or try my version below. After you've put your stew on to simmer, I'd love to hear how you'd summarize your life in three words.....Enjoy!

Alison's Version of Tarragon Beef Stew with Vermouth

2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons flour
1 pound beef stew meat
5 cups chicken broth
1 1/2 cups dry vermouth
2 cups potatoes, cut into large chunks
2 large carrots, quartered
4 cloves garlic
1 teaspoon dried tarragon
1 bay leaf
1/2 cup Worcestershire sauce
1 tablespoon white sugar
1 tablespoon honey
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
chopped fresh parsley, for garnish

Melt butter In a large dutch over medium-high heat. Combine meat and flour in a large ziplock bag and shake until meat is coated with flour. Add the meat to the dutch oven, and fry for 2 to 3 minutes, or until evenly browned on the outside. (Since my roast had already been cooked, I completely skipped this step.) Pour the chicken broth and vermouth into the stock pot. Add the potatoes, carrots, and garlic. Season with tarragon, bay leaf, Worcestershire sauce, sugar, honey, salt and pepper. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and cover. Cook 2 1/2 hours to blend the flavors.

Remove cover and continue cooking 20 minutes, or long enough to evaporate enough liquid to reach your desired thickness. If stew does not thicken to your likening, combine 1 tablespoon cornstarch with 1 tablespoon water and bring stew to a boil. Stir in cornstarch mixture and continue cooking until desired thickness is achieved. Ladle into bowls and garnish with fresh parsley.

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