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!

Grab and Go Granola: Perfect for Breakfast On The Run

I'm stepping out of the closet just long enough to admit that I have a huge girl crush on Nigella Lawson. She is voluptuously beautiful, her show is one of the very few cooking shows worth watching on Food Network, and she has a fabulous granola bar recipe. What more could you want in a relationship?

I struggle to find things that qualify as a healthy breakfast and can also be made ahead and taken to the office during the week. I tire easily of the same rotation of breakfast selections that I already have and these were a welcome addition. I served them with yogurt and fresh fruit. I'll admit to indulging in them as an afternoon snack as well (truth be known, I scarfed down all 16 bars within a weeks time!) They stayed fresh in a sealed container for the whole week. I'm thinking these would make an excellent after-school snack for the kiddies as well.

These bars were very easy to put together (I adapted Nigella's original recipe, found here, to make use of what I had on hand), but they do require about an hour to bake. The instructions say to cool in the pan for 15 minutes and then cut into bars. I highly recommend doing just that ~ I was busy taking a nap during those 15+ minutes and it was like blasting concrete out of a baking dish when I finally got around to taking them out a few hours later. I'm betting they would have still been pretty pliable after 15 minutes.

You make me swoon, Nigella, and your granola bars are the BOMB. Muah!

Grab & Go Granola Bars
inspired by Nigella Express by Nigella Lawson

1 14 fluid oz can condensed milk
1-1/4 cups rolled oats (not instant)
1-1/4 Rice Krispie cereal
1 cup shredded coconut
1 cup dried berries or raisins (I used a combination of dried cranberries, dried cherries, and dried strawberries)
1 cup sunflower seeds
1 cup unsalted, dry roasted peanuts

1. Preheat the oven to 250 degrees and oil a 9- x 13-inch baking pan or just use a disposable aluminum foil one.

2. Warm the condensed milk in a large pan.

3. Meanwhile, mix all the other ingredients together and add the warmed condensed milk, using a rubber spatula to fold and distribute.

4. Spread the mixture into the oiled or foil pan and press down with a spatula or, better still, your hands (wearing those disposable latex CSI gloves to stop you from sticking) to make the surface even.

5. Bake for 1 hour, remove, and after about 15 minutes, cut into four across and four down, to make 16 chunky bars. Let cool completely.

Makes 16

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Stuffing or Dressing? What's The Difference?

The battle between "stuffing" and "dressing" has waged for years.  What is the difference anyway?  Some say "stuffing" is prepared and cooked inside the turkey while "dressing" is baked separately and served alongside the bird.  Michele Kayal does an excellent job of outlining the differences in this article for Associated Press and it all appears to boil down to being a regional thing.  Where I come from, it's referred to as "dressing."

Call it what you will, but this recipe for Sausage, Apple and Cranberry Dressing is and excellent accoutrement to your Thanksgiving turkey.  It's also great any other time of year served with pork chops or pork roast and gravy.

Sausage, Apple and Cranberry Dressing

1 lb. turkey sausage (breakfast flavor)
1-1/2 cups onion, diced
1 cup celery, diced
3 tsp. fresh sage, minced
1-1/2 tsp. fresh rosemary, minced
1/2 tsp. dried thyme
2 Golden Delicious apples, cored and chopped
3/4 cup dried cranberries
1/3 cup fresh parsley, minced
1 cup turkey or chicken broth
1/4 butter, melted
6 cups homemade bread cubes, toasted*

*Make homemade bread cubes from your favorite sandwich bread. Stack bread 6 slices high on a cutting board. Using a bread knife, saw all the way through the stack, making 1/2 inch strips of bread. Turn bread and cut strips into 1/2 inch cubes. Toast cubes on a baking sheet at 350 degrees for about 10-15 minutes.

In a large non-stick skillet, cook the sausage and onions together. Break the sausage into small pieces using a spatula. Cook until onions are cooked through. Add celery, apples, sage, rosemary and thyme. Cook for 2 minutes.

In a large bowl, combine the bread cubes and dried cranberries. Add the fresh parsley and toss well. Add meat mixture and butter and toss well. Spread the mixture into a 9x13 baking dish and pour broth over stuffing. Bake uncovered at 350 degrees for 30 minutes. Stuffing can be prepared up to the point of baking the night before. Add 15 minutes to baking time if baking from a refrigerated state (I also wait to pour the broth over just prior to baking.)

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They'll be no pardon for this bird

When my home office floor starts looking like this, you know it's holiday menu planning time. I always have the traditional favorites from years past and then I scour my recipe files for one or two new items to add every year. I never try to make too many new things for Thanksgiving because there's already so much going on in the kitchen anyway.

I prepared a small pre-Thanksgiving dinner this weekend for Charlotte friends and will travel home to Tennessee on Wednesday to see my family for "real" Thanksgiving. I had planned to prepare everything on Saturday, but my plans were thrown into a tailspin at 7am that morning when I found myself standing on the side of the interstate with two flat tires. It was an all day affair trying to deal with that and rest assured at the very top of my list of "Things To Be Thankful For" this year is good friends who are there in times of need.

With all the tire chaos, I never made it to the grocery store for the few needed things, so I went with Plan B and condensed the menu to use what I already had on hand. Since it was a small gathering, I went with a turkey breast instead of a whole bird and basted it with olive oil flavored with the zest of a lemon and orange. The skin crisped up really nice and the citrus flavor was subtle and complemented the apple and cranberries used in the dressing.

I've shared the bird recipe today and will continue to share the rest of my menu with you throughout the week. Happy Thanksgiving!

Citrus Roasted Turkey Breast
Serves 8

1 bone-in turkey breast
1 tablespoon olive oil
Zest from 1 lemon
Zest from 1 orange
Juice from 1 lemon
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
2 cloves garlic, minced

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Place turkey breast, skin side up, in a roasting pan. Mix remaining ingredients in a small bowl and brush over turkey with a basting brush. Bake for 1 hour to 1 hour 30 minutes or until meat is no longer pink. Let stand 15 minutes for easiest carving.

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Meatless Monday

There are times that I just cannot fathom eating another piece of meat. After I've made the dinner round of beef, chicken, pork and seafood each week, I'm just plain tired of anything with a face.

I don't have alot of vegetarian recipes in my repertoire ~ something that I need desperately to change, but rest assured this fabulous recipe for Provolone Stuffed Eggplant "Meatballs" will be immediately filed away as a must-always-have-in-the-freezer vegetarian menu option. I found this recipe when I stumbled across Lauren's blog, Healthy. Delicious, a few weeks ago and the blog has been duly bookmarked for some great new menu ideas.

As much as I love eggplant Parmesan, there was no question as to whether I'd like these or not. They were very easy to put together and I love the fact that they are freezable so I can pull a portion out whenever I want. My eggplant weighed about 2-1/2 pounds and I had a couple of small zucchini in the fridge that needed to be used, so I added them to make up the difference. I also used mozzarella cheese in place of the provolone, again because it was on-hand. A couple of my "meatballs" blew a cheese gasket during baking but I was able to form them back into the semblance of a ball while they were still warm. You could serve these as a toasted "meatball" sub sandwich or with pasta.

Quick. Easy. Delicious. Satisfying.

Provolone Stuffed Eggplant "Meatballs"
recipe by Lauren of Healthy. Delicious


2 Globe Eggplants (about 3 pounds total)
1/2 cup Italian Seasoned Breadcrumbs
1/4 cup Grated Parmesan Cheese
1 Egg, slightly beaten
1/8 pound Provolone


Preheat oven to 350.

Peel the eggplant, then use the coarse side of a box grater to shred it. Toss the shredded eggplant with 1 tsp kosher salt. Use your hands to squeeze out as much moisture as you can.

Discard the liquid and add the shredded eggplant to a bowl with the breadcrumbs, Parmesan cheese, and egg. Use your hands to mix the ingredients together. The mixture should be moist, but not too soggy - add more bread crumbs if needed.

Arrange the provolone into a stack, then cut it into 12 cubes.

Divide the eggplant mixture into 12 equal portions. Form each portion into a ball. Use your thumb to make an indentation in each ball and tuck a portion of the provolone inside. Roll the balls to seal the provolone inside.

Place the eggplant balls on a baking sheet. Bake for 15 minutes, or until the bottoms have turned golden brown. Turn the eggplant balls and bake for an additional 10 minutes to brown the other side.

Serve with your favorite pasta sauce.

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Crantastic Cranberry Tart

Recently hailed as a "superfruit" because of their antioxidant properties, cranberries have adorned Thanksgiving and Christmas dinner tables since the beginning of time in the gelatinous shape of an aluminum can. Harvested from September to November, 95% of the crop is processed into juice cocktails, as dried berries, or as the beloved holiday cranberry sauce, so that only leaves 5% of the crop to be sold as fresh berries.  When the bags of fresh berries appear in the produce section, I always stock up because they freeze surprisingly well.  Grab several bags for yourself so you too can enjoy the superfruit's healing benefits year round.  Although I'm not sure how healing they become once they are combined with liqueur, sugar, and cream cheese, but I'm thinking you won't really care because it makes such a fantastic combination!

Today's cranberry tart is reminiscent of this one because it is loosely based on it.  While I enjoyed the Bon Appetit version very much, I must admit that I like my own version of it even a little better.  I hope you enjoy it as well!

Crantastic Cranberry Tart
Inspired by Bon Appetit

Cranberry Topping:
3/4 cup Chambord Black Raspberry Liqueur, divided
1 teaspoon unflavored gelatin
1-12 ounce bag fresh or frozen cranberries
3/4 cup sugar
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon finely grated lemon peel
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1  Pinch salt
4 tablespoons finely chopped crystallized ginger

1-1/2 cups cinnamon graham cracker crumbs
1/4 cup sugar
1/8 teaspoon salt
8 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
Cream Cheese Filling:
8 ounce cream cheese, softened
1 can sweetened condensed milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/3 cup lemon juice

Pour 1/4 cup Chambord into small bowl; sprinkle gelatin over. Let stand until softened, 15 minutes. Combine remaining Chambord, cranberries, and next 5 ingredients in medium saucepan; bring to boil, stirring until sugar dissolves. Reduce heat to medium; simmer until cranberries are tender but still plump, 5 minutes. Strain into bowl; set cranberries aside. Add gelatin mixture to hot liquid in bowl; stir until gelatin dissolves. Stir cranberries back into liqueur along with crystalized ginger and chill until cranberry mixture is cold and slightly thickened, at least 8 hours or overnight.  This can be done up to 2 days ahead. Cover and chill.
For crust:

Position rack in center of oven and preheat to 350°F. Combine cracker crumbs, sugar, and salt in medium bowl; add melted butter and stir until crumbs feel moist when pressed together with fingertips. Press crumb mixture firmly onto bottom and up sides of 9-inch-diameter tart pan with removable bottom. Bake crust until beginning to set and slightly crisp, pressing with spoon if crust puffs during baking, about 14 minutes. Transfer tart pan to rack and cool crust completely before filling.

For cream cheese filling:

Using electric mixer, beat all ingredients until smooth. Spread filling in cooled crust.  Can be made 1 day ahead. Cover and chill.

Spoon cranberry mixture evenly over filling. Chill at least 2 hours and up to 6 hours.  Cut tart into wedges and serve cold.

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