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!

Farewell, Old Friend

Well, it's official. Summer is over. Oh sure, according to the calendar it was gone a few weeks ago but was it too much to hope that the few lingering warm days was a sign that summer would hold on just a bit longer? This week brought cooler mornings which make me want to stay in bed and burrow under the covers with my little snuggle bunny, who can be seen here taking up residence on my side of the bed as soon as I got up. I don't so much mind the cooler evenings because I enjoy sitting on the patio with a glass of wine as the sun goes down but I do hate that the days are getting shorter. I also hate that period of time that it takes for my taste buds to give up the ghost of fresh summer fruits and vegetables and acclimate to the tastes of fall. But every time I walk into the grocery store it becomes more readily apparent that it's time to focus on root vegetables, pumpkin inspired desserts, and heartier entrees.

I decided to give summer one last hoorah with this recipe from the August 2008 issue of Bon Appetit for Grilled Scallops and Nectarines with Corn and Tomato Salad. It was a delightful combination of fresh fruits, vegetables, herbs, and seafood. Scallops are not something that I am extremely fond of, but having only had them 2 times in my life I figured the only way that I'd develop a taste for them is to continue to try them.

Even though this recipe took up half the magazine printed page, once you read through it, you realize that it's fairly simple. I also think it's elegant enough for a dinner party but I did make a few changes to the recipe. I had some prepared basil pesto that I used instead of making it but quite honestly, I don't like pesto. Again, I wanted to try it just for the sake of maybe my taste buds had changed, but no. I will leave it out completely next time. Also, the recipe left the corn raw but I sauteed it for a few minutes in just a bit of butter because the idea of raw corn just wasn't appealing to me or most of the 47 reviewers who commented on the recipe. And for once, I think my photo looks better than the one posted on the website. I used a grill pan and prepared this indoors because we have a huge grill and some days it's just too much trouble to deal with. Today was one of those days.

Paired with a nice glass of chilled Pinot Grigio, this was the perfect farewell to my old friend summer. Until next year!!

Grilled Scallops & Nectarines with Corn & Tomato Salad
Serves: 6

3 tablespoons fresh lime juice
1 1/2 teaspoons finely grated lime peel
1/8 teaspoon (generous) piment d'Espelette or chili powder
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
Fleur de sel

Basil Puree:
3/4 cup (loosely packed) fresh basil leaves
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
Fleur de sel

24 large sea scallops, side muscles removed, patted dry
3 firm but ripe nectarines (white or yellow), each cut into 6 wedges
Olive oil, for brushing
1 1/2 cups fresh corn kernels, cut from 2 large ears of corn
24 grape or cherry tomatoes, halved
1/3 cup thinly sliced basil leaves
Fleur de sel

For dressing:
Whisk lime juice, lime peel, and piment d'Espelette in small bowl. Gradually whisk in oil. Season with fleur de sel and pepper. DO AHEAD: Can be made 1 day ahead. Chill. Bring to room temperature before using.

For basil puree:
Blanch basil in small pot of boiling salted water 30 seconds; drain. Squeeze to remove as much water as possible, then coarsely chop. Puree basil and oil in blender until smooth. Transfer to small bowl. Season to taste with fleur de sel. DO AHEAD: Can be made 1 day ahead. Cover and chill. Return to room temperature before using.

For salad:
Prepare barbecue (medium-high heat). Brush scallops and nectarines with oil; sprinkle with salt and pepper. Grill scallops until slightly charred and cooked through, about 2 minutes per side. Grill nectarines until slightly charred, about 1 1/2 minutes per side. Transfer scallops and nectarines to plate. Arrange 4 scallops on each of 6 plates. Toss corn and 2 tablespoons dressing in medium bowl. Toss tomatoes with 1 tablespoon dressing in another bowl; season to taste with salt and pepper. Spoon corn around scallops. Scatter tomatoes over corn. Arrange nectarine wedges decoratively on plates. Drizzle some dressing over scallops, then spoon some basil puree over. Sprinkle sliced basil and fleur de sel over corn and tomatoes and serve.

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Rain, Rain, Go Away

We've had drought conditions here in Nowhere Land for so long that I really hate to begrudge the rain but enough is enough!! On top of being hit by these last two hurricanes, we had 7 days of solid rain just prior to that. So much rain that I thought I was starting to mold. that a mushroom growing in my....well, never mind.

I've said before that I always equate rain with cold temperatures, no matter how warm it actually is outside. Several of our rainy days were coupled with stifling, 100% pure humidity - the kind where the windows in the house are completely fogged up because of the difference in temperatures inside and outside. But after Hurricane Ike, the temperatures have cooled off quite nicely and the humidity has all but disappeared. Perfect weather for soup!

If you're tired of your same old soup routine, then give this White Turkey Chili a try. It's different, delicious, and pretty economical to prepare. It freezes well too, so I like to keep some in my freezer for nights when there's no time to prepare dinner. I love the addition of cinnamon in this soup - the flavor combination is subtle but distinct.

I coupled this soup with a colorful, crunchy coleslaw. I'm not a huge fan of mayo based coleslaws and I like this one because it is vinegar based and also uses apples and pears. It's also perfect to take to a summer picnic since there is no mayonnaise. Make this early in the day because the longer it sits, the better it tastes. It's also good the next day but the fruit starts to turn a bit and may not be as fresh looking.

* Exported from MasterCook *

White Chili with Ground Turkey

Recipe By :
Serving Size : 8
Categories : Soups Turkey

Amount Measure Ingredient -- Preparation Method
-------- ------------ --------------------------------
1 each onion -- chopped
3 cloves garlic -- minced
1 1/2 pounds ground turkey
8 ounces green chilies
1 tablespoon ground cumin
1 tablespoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 pinch ground white pepper
3 (15 ounce) cans cannelini beans
2 cups chicken broth
2 cups shredded Monterrey Jack cheese (I used the shredded combination cheddar/Monterrey Jack)

1. In a large pot over medium heat, combine the onion, garlic and ground turkey and saute for 10 minutes, or until turkey is well browned. Add the chili peppers, cumin, oregano, cinnamon, cayenne pepper to taste and white pepper to taste and saute for 5 more minutes.
2. Add two cans of the beans and the chicken broth to the pot. Take the third can of beans and puree them in a blender or food processor. Add this to the pot along with the cheese. Stir well and simmer for 10 minutes, allowing the cheese to melt.

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* Exported from MasterCook *

Apple and Pear Slaw

Serving Size : 6
Categories : Salads/Salad Dressings

Amount Measure Ingredient -- Preparation Method
-------- ------------ --------------------------------
1/4 cup cider vinegar
1 tablespoon brown sugar
2 teaspoons poppy seeds
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
2 cups granny Smith apple -- thinly sliced
2 cups pear -- thinly sliced
12 ounces cabbage & carrot coleslaw mix

Combine first 5 ingredients in a small bowl; set aside.

Combine apple, pear, and coleslaw in a large bowl; stir in dressing. Chill up to 2 hours.

"Cooking Light Annual Recipes 2000, pg. 288"
"1 cup"
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Chunky Blondies Today...Fat Redhead Tomorrow

Rarely do I prepare several different recipes from the same cookbook and deem them all to be great recipes. I mean surely at least one of them will be a disappointment simply because the combination of flavors wasn't a favorite or the recipe itself is just a flop because of a typo or incorrect information. Not so with Dorie Greenspan's book, Baking From My Home to Yours. Today's post is the fourth recipe from this book that I've tried and Dorie does not disappoint!

These chunky blondies were so rich and delicious that when I cut them into squares, I immediately put most of them in the freezer just so that I wouldn't scarf all of them down at one sitting. That little trick came in handy during the recent bad weather we've had when a friend came over one evening to help cut and remove some trees. I offered to prepare dinner as a thank you to him and I pulled together a simple dinner, finished it off with these jewels and like magic, they disappeared! I sent one tired lumberjack-wannabe home fat and happy!

I did use almonds in place of the walnuts simply because that's what I had on hand and I did not put my 9x13 pan on a baking sheet because I've heard that doing this can cause problems with undercooking.

Chewy, Chunky Blondies
(Source: Dorie Greenspan “Baking: From My Home to Yours” p.109)

2 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 sticks (8 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 1/2 cups (packed) light brown sugar
1/2 cup sugar
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
6 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped into chips, or 1 cup store-bought chocolate chips
1 cup butterscotch chips or Heath Toffee Bits
1 cup coarsely chopped walnuts
1 cup sweetened shredded coconut

Getting Ready: Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. Butter a 9×13-inch baking pan and put it on a baking sheet.

Whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt.

Working with a stand mixer, preferably fitted with a paddle attachment, or with a hand mixer in a large bowl, beat the butter on medium speed until smooth and creamy. Add both sugars and beat for another 3 minutes, or until well incorporated. Add the eggs one by one, beating for 1 minute after each addition, then beat in the vanilla. Reduce the mixer speed to low and add the dry ingredients, mixing just until they disappear into the batter. Using a rubber spatula, stir in the chips, nuts and coconut. Scrape the batter into the buttered pan and use the spatula to even the top as best you can.

Bake for about 40 minutes, or until a knife inserted into the center of the blondies comes out clean. The blondies should pull away from the sides of the pan a little and the top should be a nice honey brown. Transfer the pan to a rack and cool for about 15 minutes before turning the blondies out onto another rack. Invert onto a rack and cool the blondies to room temperature right side up.

Cut into 32 bars, each roughly 2-1/4 x 1-1/2 inches.

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Someday Has Finally Come

Someday, when I'm rich, I'm going to travel the world.

Someday I will find my prince charming and live happily ever after.

Someday, when I grow up, I'm going to be a supermodel.

Someday, someday, someday....

Someday I will master the art of yeast bread.

Do you ever find yourself saying things like this? And then you find yourself waiting around for Someday to come but it never seemingly does. Is it possible that Someday never actually comes around on its own unless you take action and make it happen?

Recently, I found myself home alone with some time to kill and this very question burned in my mind. I've always said that someday I'd master the art of yeast bread. Sure, I've had good days and bad days when it comes to yeast bread but I've never really considered myself a Master Of Yeast. Maybe I never will be. But as I flipped through my dust-laden copy of The Complete Cooking Light Cookbook, I landed on page 95 and was enticed by the pictures - I've always been drawn to cookbooks with pretty pictures. I had all the ingredients on hand and so it was that Italian Spinach-Cheese Swirls became my project for the day. Little did I know that today would be my Someday, at least as far as yeast bread was concerned!

My dough came together really well and since the recipe said to let it rise in an 85 degree room, I decided to take it upstairs to my bonus room where it was exactly that temperature. We're kind of cheap when it comes to air conditioning the upstairs, so we only turn on the thermostat when we're up there. After 45 minutes of rising time, I was greeted by a gorgeous poofy bowl of elastic dough!

Rolled out and layered with spinach and Parmesan cheese....things were still looking good.

A quick flick of the kitchen scissors to showcase the fillings, one more round of rising time, and I knew I was going to hit it out of the park. By this time, I'm starting to think that the optimum 85 degree temperature was the secret ingredient. In the past, my yeast creations just sat on the kitchen counter where the temperature was probably 10 to 15 degrees less than what it should have been.

Oh, yeah. Look at me. I got it. Slice it up and butter it because I. Am. The. Queen. Seriously, though. This was an easy recipe to follow and another bonus point is that you are rewarded with two loaves and can freeze the second one and enjoy it later. I will definitely make this recipe again but I'll make one small change. Instead of using the minced garlic and oil, I plan to use some roasted garlic to kick up the garlic flavor just a bit. I don't think you can ever have too much garlic!

Italian Spinach-Cheese Swirls

3 Tbsp. olive oil
1 large garlic clove,minced
2 pkgs. dry yeast
1 tbsp sugar
2 cups warm water
5 1/4 cups bread flour
1 1/2 tsp salt
1 package frozen chopped spinach thawed and squeezed dry
1/2 cup grated fresh Parmesan cheese
1 tsp dried Italian seasonings
1 tbsp water

Combine oil and garlic in a small bowl. Microwave at HIGH 1 minute; set aside. And cool, Dissolve yeast and sugar in warm water; let stand 5 minutes.

Lightly spoon flour into dry measuring cups; level with a knife. Combine 3 cups flour and salt in a large bowl. Add garlic mixture and yeast mixture; stir until well blended. Add 2 cups flour, stirring until soft dough forms.

Turn dough out onto a floured surface. Knead until smooth and elastic (about 8 minutes); add enough of remaining flour, 1 tablespoon at a time, to prevent dough from sticking to hands (dough will feel tacky).

Place dough in a large bowl coated with cooking spray, running to coat top. Cover and let rise in a warm place (85º), free from drafts, 45 minutes or until doubled in size. (Press two fingers into dough. If indentation remains, the dough has risen enough.)

Punch dough down; cover and let rest 5 minutes. Divide in half. Working with one portion at a time (cover remaining dough to keep from drying), roll each portion into a 15 x 10-inch rectangle on a lightly floured surface Combine chopped spinach, Parmesan cheese, and Italian seasoning. Spread each portion of dough with half of spinach mixture, leaving a ½-inch border. Roll up each rectangle tightly, starting with a long edge, pressing to eliminate air pockets; pinch seam and ends to seal. Place rolls, seam side up, on opposite ends of a large baking sheet coated with cooking spray (you may want to use two separate baking sheets).

Working with one roll at a time, fold roll in half, placing one half directly on top of other half; pinch ends to seal. Using kitchen shears, cut through folded end of roll, cutting through roll to within 1 inch of opposite end. Twist cut halves of dough outward so filling faces up. Repeat procedure with remaining roll. Cover and let rise 30 minutes or until doubled in size.

Preheat oven to 350º. Combine egg white and 1 tablespoon of water. Uncover dough, and brush egg white mixture lightly over loaves. Bake at 350º for 27 minutes or until loaves are lightly browned and sound hollow when tapped. Remove loaves from pan, and cool in wire racks.

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