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!


The idea of turning something old into something new is not a concept resigned only to cans, bottles, newspapers and old tires. It also applies to food, except I like to consider that as the Art of Recreation. Who hasn't taken that last piece of grilled chicken and diced it up for chicken salad or used the leftover rice side dish from yesterday's dinner and turned it into a delicious stir fry entree for tomorrow's meal?

My freezer seems to be the catch-all place for food that needs to be recreated and only when I clear out some space can I indulge in buying more new goodies. Recent inventory figures showed it was time to recycle some bread (you know, those last few slices of bread that never get eaten and invariably lay on the counter until they're hard as a rock), so the stale slices were reborn as Bread Pudding with Port Wine Soaked Cranberries and Blueberries inspired by an Emeril Lagasse recipe.

Perfect for a weekend brunch or served as a dessert...Enjoy!

Bread Pudding with Port Wine Soaked Cranberries and Blueberries
inspired by Emeril Lagasse

1 teaspoon unsalted butter
4 large eggs
1 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 cups Berry Compote (see recipe below)
1 cup pecan pieces, toasted and rough chopped
2 cups milk
8 slices day-old bread (white or sourdough or combination of both), crusts removed and cut into 1/2 inch cubes (about 4 cups)
Fresh whipped cream, for serving

Berry Compote:
1/4 pound fresh cranberries
1/4 pound fresh blueberries
1 tablespoon grated orange zest
1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
1/4 cup fresh orange juice
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/2 cup water
1-1/2 cups Port wine
3 tablespoons cornstarch

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Grease a 9x13 baking pan with butter.

Whisk together eggs, sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, vanilla and berry compote until very smooth. Stir in milk, bread and pecans. Let the mixture sit for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Pour the mixture into the prepared pan. Bake until the pudding is set in the center, about 55 minutes. Let cool for 5 minutes.

To serve, cut the pudding into squares and top with fresh whipped cream.

For the Berry Compote:

Put the cranberries, orange and lemon zest, orange and lemon juice, sugar, vanilla, and Port wine in a medium-size nonreactive saucepan over medium-high heat. Bring to a boil and cook for 8 minutes. Dissolve the cornstarch in the 1/2 cup of water and add to the pan along with the blueberries. Reduce the heat to medium, then stir constantly until the mixture thickens, about 2 minutes. Remove from the heat and cool completely. Yield: 2 cups

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Home for the Holidays

Baking gingerbread houses has been a tradition in my family for quite some time. My mother took an Agriculture Extension workshop years ago to learn how to make them and when I was younger, I'd sit at the table and "help" mostly by eating candy, chattering incessantly and getting covered in the sticky icing. I'm sure I was more of a pest who tried her patience (some things never change, do they Mom?) while she was trying to concentrate on her creations, but the activity would become one of those traditions that I have and will always associate with my mother this time of year. I was so excited to see that gingerbread houses would be this month's Daring Bakers' challenge.

The December 2009 Daring Bakers’ challenge was brought to you by Anna of Very Small Anna and Y of Lemonpi. They chose to challenge Daring Bakers’ everywhere to bake and assemble a gingerbread house from scratch. They chose recipes from Good Housekeeping and from The Great Scandinavian Baking Book as the challenge recipes.

It seems that other DBers had problems with the dough recipes but I didn't use either of the choices, opting instead to use my tried and true recipe which makes between 4 and 5 houses. Once you get started, there's really no difference between making 1 house or 5 ~ it's sort of an assembly line process. There's nothing I enjoy more than seeing the look on my friends' faces when I give them one of the houses as a gift. One of my houses went to my lovely friend, the Greek Goddess and another to my friend Mary so her little boy could enjoy it. The other 2 houses were given as door prizes at my holiday cookie exchange party that I hosted a couple of weeks ago.

I've posted my recipe below and the template that I use is posted here so start a new tradition in your family next year by baking and building the house of your dreams!

Thank you Anna and Y for a fun challenge.

* Exported from MasterCook *

Gingerbread House Recipe

Recipe By :Sullivan County Extension Homemakers Club

Amount Measure Ingredient -- Preparation Method
-------- ------------ --------------------------------
7 to 8 Cups Sifted All Purpose Flour
1 Teaspoon Soda
1 Teaspoon Salt
1 Teaspoon Nutmeg
3 Teaspoons Ginger
1 Cup Shortening
1 Cup Sugar
1 1/2 Cups unsulphered Molasses -- use light color
2 Each Eggs
1 Cup Additional Flour -- 1-2 cups
Royal Icing:
3 Each Eggs Whites -- room temp
4 Cups Confectioner's Sugar
1/2 Teaspoon Cream of Tarter

Sift together first 5 ingredients. Blend together molasses, shortening, sugar and eggs. Stir dry ingredients into molasses mixture. Add enough of the additional flour to make a dough stiff enough to be shaped into a disc. Refrigerate overnight for easier handling. Can be frozen.

Will make 4-5 small gingerbread house using this pattern.

Roll to about 1/4" thickness on a floured cookie sheet. Trace the house pattern pieces onto typing paper and cut out. Arrange pattern pieces on cookie dough and carefully cut around each pattern being certain to allow 1/2" space between pieces to allow the dough to expand as it bakes.

Cut the dough with a sharp paring knife or the edge of a metal pancake turner. Be certain the walls and roof are the same size as the patterns. Remove scraps leaving house pieces on the cookie sheet. Do not attempt to shift pieces once they have been cut out. This will stretch the dough and distort the shape. Bake at 350 12-15 mins.

Carefully loosen then remove each piece with a metal pancake turner. Cool on a wire rack. When the walls are completely cooled, place a sheet of aluminum foil on the cookie sheet shiny side up. Arrange the walls on the foil. With a hammer, pulverize a few pieces of hard clear candy in a plastic bag. Spoon some of the crushed candy into each window. Return the cookie sheet to the oven and bake a few mins in order to melt the candy. Watch carefully, the candy melts quickly. Remove pieces from the cookie sheet and cool on a rack. When completely cooled (don't rush this cooling step) peel the foil from the backs of each wall. The foil will peel easily from the window if it has cooled sufficiently.

I usually allow my house pieces to sit for a day or so to dry out just a bit. They seem to be a little too soft to assemble the houses on the same day as baking. My houses are constructed on a 12x12 piece of white styrofoam.

Assemble using Royal Icing as "glue". Glue the walls together first. When icing has hardened (about 15 mins) then glue on the roof. Glue on the chimney and door. When icing has hardened you may begin decorating the house with additional icing and candy.

Suggested candies: cinnamon red hots, starlight peppermints, candy canes, gum drops, miniature marshmallows, M&M's, sweettarts, silver dragees.

Make a larger house by increasing the size of the pattern pieces. As you assemble a larger house, stuff a small string of miniature Christmas lights inside the house with the cord sticking out. Your gingerbread house can glow with the lights are plugged in. Make a gingerbread house for your pet. Use yellow, pink, or orange hard clear candies for the windows.

Royal Icing: Purchase Wilton Meringue Powder where cake decorating supplies are sold and follow the recipe on the can for Royal Icing. Or, use the scratch recipe above. Do NOT use a shortening based frosting. When making Royal Icing, it is essential that all mixing utensils are grease free. The slightest bit of oil or grease will case the Royal Icing to break down. Royal Icing dries quickly so keep the bowl covered with a damp cloth at all times. Can be refrigerated.

Beat all icing ingredients at high speed for 7-10 mins. Add more sugar for a stiffer consistency if necessary. Makes 2-1/2 cups.


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Cookies! Cookies! Cookies!

During the Christmas season, there is a constant flow of baked goods coming from my kitchen. It's to the point that my friends and coworkers run in the opposite direction when they see me coming because they know I'm going to force my sugar laden treats upon their already overloaded sweet tooths. I decided this year I should find more victims friends to subject to my obsessive compulsive baking habits by hosting a cookie exchange.

It wound up being a small Sunday afternoon affair with gold and silver friends, a few munchies and alot of fabulous cookies.

Our cookie bounty consisted of:

Almond Butter Cookies from courtesy of Sherrell

The kitchen maven Paula Deen's recipe for White Chocolate Cherry Chunkies contributed by Candace

A tray piled high with Dawn's Toffee Bars

Team Mary and Jessica brought a batch of one of my favorites ~ Rosemary Caramel Sandwiches

Rose and Angela joined forces to bake up a batch of serious bling in the form of gorgeous Chocolate Caramel Delights

And our token males, George and Domenic showed us that they know their way around the kitchen by wowing us with Lavender cookies and Peppermint Pinwheels from Southern Living, respectively.

It was a great way to get others excited about holiday baking and gather new recipes for my ever-growing recipe file. Click the links above for the recipes that are available online and make sure you try the ones posted below as well!

Toffee Bars by Dawn

1 cup (2 sticks) butter or margarine, softened
1 cup packed brown sugar
1 tsp. vanilla
2 cups sifted flour
1 (12 oz) bag chocolate chips
Multi-colored sprinkles

Preheat oven to 350. Beat together butter, sugar, and vanilla. Add flour.

Pat evenly onto a 15x9x2 ungreased cookie sheet. Note: the mixture should not stick to your fingers, add more flour if needed.

Bake 12-15 minutes until lightly browned.

Immediately top with chocolate chips. Wait a few minutes until melted before spreading chips.

Top with sprinkles (do not use colored sugar)
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Chocolate-Caramel Delights by Angela and Rose

1 each egg
1/2 cup butter -- softened
2/3 cup sugar
2 tablespoons milk
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
16 each vanilla caramels
3 tablespoons whipping cream
1 1/4 cups pecans -- finely chopped
1/2 cup semisweet chocolate chips
1 teaspoon shortening

Separate egg, reserving yolk and white. Cover and chill egg white until needed. In a large mixing bowl beat butter with an electric mixer for 30 seconds. Add sugar and beat well. Beat in egg yolk, milk and vanilla.

In another bowl stir together the flour, cocoa powder and salt. Add flour mixture to butter mixture and beat until well combined. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and chill for 2 hours or until dough is easy to handle.

Preheat oven to 350. In a small saucepan heat and stir caramels and whipping cream over low heat until mixture is smooth. Set aside.

Slightly beat reserved egg while. Shape the dough into 1" balls. Roll each ball in egg white, then in nuts. Place balls 1" apart of a lightly greased cookie sheet. Using your thumb, make an indention in the center of the cookie.

Bake in preheat oven for 10 mins or until edges are firm. Spoon some melted caramel mixture into the indention in each cookie. Transfer cookie to wire racks; cool. If necessary, reheat caramel to keep it spoonable.

In another saucepan heat and stir chocolate pieces and shortening over low heat until chocolate melts and mixture is smooth; cool slightly. Transfer the warm mixture to a self sealing plastic bag. Close bag and cut a small hole in one corner. Drizzle cookies with chocolate mixture. Let cookies stand until chocolate is set.

"BH&G 100 Best Cookies 2004, pg. 101"
"36 "

NOTES : To store: Place in layers separated by wax paper in an airtight container; cover. Store at room temp up to 3 days or freeze undrizzled cookies up to 3 months. Thaw cookies, then drizzle.

Be careful not to overfill with caramel filling.

Melted chocolate is VERY hot! Let cool for quite a while before filling bag!
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George's Lavender Cookies

1/2 cup butter
1 cup butter flavored Crisco
1 cup sugar
1 cup brown sugar -- packed
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
3 1/2 cups flour
1 teaspoon soda
1 teaspoon cream of tartar
1 cup Rice Krispies®
1 cup oatmeal
6 teaspoons lavender buds -- finely ground
1/2 cup pecans or almonds -- finely ground

Beat together butter, Crisco and sugars. Add vanilla and eggs. Beat until fluffy. Sift together flour, soda, and cream of tartar. Add to mixture. Stir in rice krispies, oatmeal and lavender. Mix well. Drop by teaspoonsful on ungreased baking sheets. Bake at 350 degrees for 17 mins.

"Cedar Creek Herbs, 246 Cedar Creek Road, Hot Springs, AR 71901"
"10 dozen"

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The Recipe of a Relationship

Most of my time away from a real job is spent with recipes. Searching for them. Shopping for them. Preparing, tweaking, critiquing and writing about them. Devouring them. It's to the point that I feel as though I'm in a relationship with my recipes.

There are recipes that catch the eye immediately. They contain an exotic or intriguing ingredient that excites you and you want to know more about it. You want to try the recipe but maybe feel a bit intimidated by it, thinking it's somewhat out of your league. Or maybe the timing just isn't right so you file it away for future reference but find that the excitement has worn off the next time you run across it.

There are the tried and true recipes ~ the ones you can come home to every night and never tire of. Even after a bit of tweaking, you know them by heart and don't even need to look at the written copy anymore. They comfort you, cheer you up, make you smile.

Some recipes just aren't your type or are so unappealing you wouldn't touch them with a ten foot pole.

And we've all seen the recipe that is impressively presented in the cookbook photograph, has quality ingredients, and sounds really appealing to our palate. Once you try it though, you realize that those photographs are styled by a professional and even with the quality ingredients, no matter how many times you try it, look at it or taste it, it's just not that appetizing after all. A great recipe for someone else, though. Maybe one of your other girlfriends would like it?

The subject of this post falls into both the first and the last category. I was introduced to the Sugar Cream Pie back in late September. I was immediately intrigued because it was not a pie from my neck of the woods, hailing instead from the Midwestern area of the country. I'd never heard of it, never seen it on a menu and I needed to know more about it. There were a couple of variations of the pie ~ some people knew the pie to be one way and others described the pie in a completely different way. I wanted to try both variations and draw my own conclusions about which was the best.

I started out with this recipe and found out after the fact that it was the closest replica of the Sugar Pie that I was trying to recreate. The end result was very rich and tasty with hints of butterscotch flavor and I'd dare you eat more than one piece at a time. Talk about a sugar high! With the high concentration of sugar and fat from the heavy cream, the top of the pie looked like an oil slick after it was baked, so I wasn't overly impressed with this version. The Sugar Cream Pie is also known as a Depression Pie because it was traditionally made with very simple ingredients that were almost always on hand and I'm sure aesthetics was not an important factor.

Convinced that the Sugar Cream Pie was something I really wanted, I went back for Round Two with this rendition which was totally different in all aspects. This version had a custard base which bubbled over in my oven and left me with a nice burnt charcoal briquette to clean up. It neither looked nor tasted like the first attempt because it was creamier and not as sickening sweet.

I eventually got to sample a real Sugar Cream Pie on one of several trips to visit the human aspect of this relationship and my final opinion of the whole situation? Although intriguing at first glance, after two attempts to get to know it better I just wasn't that in to it. I'm ready to end our relationship because there are so many other pies to try and so little time but perhaps it's the perfect pie mate for you?

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