Key Lime Cheesecake

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Imagine a dessert that’s sweet, tart, silky, crunchy, rich and fluffy all at once.  Are you imagining Key Lime Cheesecake?  This sweet treat is one that will awaken all your senses…and is quite possibly my favorite dessert!  It’s so refreshing when it’s served ice cold on a hot day.  

Occasionally, I take orders for baked goods/desserts and this one is the one that’s most requested.  Don’t be intimidated by all the steps, it’s really quite simple!  You can even prepare the crust ahead of time or, if you’re really in a pinch, you can purchase prepared graham cracker crusts (this recipe fills 2!).  That being said, I highly recommend making your own crust with the addition of the unsweetened coconut.  The coconut really adds something special!  You can usually find it in the bulk section of the grocery store.  If not, ask!  Want to present your cheesecake in a more festive way?  Scroll to the bottom for a fun variation: cheesecake mini’s!

Go ahead, try this one!!  Your time and effort will be rewarded!  

Ingredients:

Crust
1 package Graham Crackers (about 1 ½ cups, crushed)
½ cup unsweetened coconut
⅓ cup granulated sugar
6 tbs butter, melted
½ tsp cinnamon
*If you choose not to use coconut, just increase your graham cracker crumbs to 2 cups.

Cheesecake
1 cup Nelly & Joe’s Key Lime Juice
¼ cup water
2 envelopes unflavored Knox gelatin
1 ½ cups granulated sugar
5 eggs
zest from 1 lime
½ cup butter, softened
2 8-oz packages cream cheese, softened
1 cup heavy whipping cream

Optional: additional heavy whipping cream to decorate plus granulated sugar to taste.

Special Equipment: Springform PanIngredients w Logo.jpg

Method:

Preheat oven to 375* F.

In a food processor, process graham crackers until they turn to coarse crumbs, add in coconut and pulse until combined.  Crumbs w Logo.jpg

Transfer to a bowl, add melted butter, sugar and cinnamon.  Stir until thoroughly combined and mixture clumps.
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Press crumbs firmly into the bottom of an ungreased springform pan.  Bake for 7 minutes.  Remove and allow to cool completely.
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In a 2 qt saucepan, combine lime juice, water and gelatin.  Let stand 5 minutes.  Add sugar, eggs, and lime zest.  Lime Zest w Logo.jpg

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Whisk up the mixture until completely combined and cook over medium heat, stirring constantly until it just begins to bubble.  DO NOT allow it to boil.  Remove from heat and set aside.

In a large mixing bowl, beat butter and cream cheese together until well combined.Cream Cheese & Butter w Logo.jpg

Pour the hot lime mixture into the cream cheese mixture.  Beat with an electric mixture until thoroughly combined, approximately 2 minutes.

Refrigerate for about an hour, stirring occasionally.  You want the mixture to cool down, but not set up.

In a separate bowl, whip heavy cream until stiff peaks form.  (DO NOT add sugar.)

Once lime mixture is cool, fold in the whipped cream.  Make sure you combine it well, but some marbling is okay.

Pour mixture into the prepared crust, smooth out the top and refrigerate for several hours to allow cheesecake to firm up.
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Once cheesecake has set, run a knife around the edge of the springform pan to loosen the edges.  Slowly release the clasp and press the cake up out of the pan.  You can remove the bottom piece of the pan by putting a sheet of parchment over the top of the cheesecake, putting a cutting board (or other flat surface) over the parchment, then flipping the whole cake over.  Insert a butter knife between the pan and crust and the crust should pop right off.  Place your serving platter on top of the crust and flip the cheesecake back over.  Carefully remove parchment from the top.

You can serve your cheesecake naked, or decorate with whipped cream.

Whip approximately 1 ½ cups heavy whipping cream in a metal bowl until stiff peaks form.  Add in sugar to taste, one tablespoon at a time, until desired sweetness is reached.

Use the whipped cream in a piping bag or frosting gun to create all sorts of designs.  My favorite is the roses and stars (pictured), which is created by using a 2D star tip.  Decorate w Logo.jpg

Variation:
You can create cheesecake mini’s, which is my personal favorite way to prepare this dessert, and it’s a lot easier to serve.  Fill cupcake pans with paper or foil liners.

Note:  You cannot prepare the mini’s in batches, they must all be done at once.  If you don’t have at least 24 spaces in cupcake pans you can purchase disposables at any dollar store/grocery store.

Press about 1 tablespoon of the crumb mixture into the bottom of each.  I like to fill all the cups before pressing to ensure the mixture is spread evenly.  Bake about 7 minutes at 375.

Fill each cupcake with the prepared lime mixture, you should have more than enough to fill each cupcake to the very top (any excess can be refrigerated and enjoyed without crust).  Refrigerate until cooled and set, at least 2 hours.  Garnish with whipped cream and lime zest.

Serve ice cold and enjoy!

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Rustic Blue Cheese Apple Tart

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I can’t recall the day I decided that I actually like blue cheese.  For years I considered it a disgusting, smelly hunk of mold, hardly classifiable as food.  Then one day, it was like someone flipped a switch and now, I crave the stuff!

This delicate recipe is a little twist on a blue cheese pizza that was prepared during a cheese class at my favorite local produce store, Chuck’s Produce.  Their resident “Cheese Whiz,” Andrew, allowed us to taste several varieties of blue cheese in various different ways.  One of the cheeses he sprinkled over his apple pizza and topped with agave syrup.  It was delicious!  For my version, I replaced the pizza dough with the lighter puff pastry, which I think lends itself better for a breakfast item, and used organic clover honey as the drizzle.

Aside from the incredible sweet & savory combination, you’ll love this recipe because it uses minimal, common ingredients and it is really quick and easy to prepare, while still being impressive in both flavor and presentation.

Are you a blue cheese lover?  If not, maybe this recipe will change your mind.  If you already love it, enjoy!

Ingredients:

1 sheet puff pastry
1-2 fresh apples, sliced (Honey Crisp or Pink Ladies taste great!)
½ cup blue cheese crumbles
Honey (enough to drizzle)

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Directions:

Follow thawing directions on the puff pastry box.  Lay pastry sheet out flat on a baking sheet.  Bake in a 350 degree oven for approx 15 minutes, or until golden brown.  Pastry will puff up…a lot!  It’s okay, it,s puff pastry, that’s what it’s supposed to do!  Once golden, remove from oven.  Puff.jpg

Slice and core apples and arrange evenly on the cooked pastry.  Top with blue cheese crumbles and drizzle with honey.4 pix.jpg

Bake for about 15 minutes or until blue cheese is golden and apples are soft.

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Turkey Shepherd’s Pie

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Today is St. Patrick’s Day, and what better way to celebrate this Irish holiday than with some traditional Irish fare.  And you can’t get any more “traditional Irish” than Shepherd’s Pie.  Originally called “Cottage Pie” this hearty dish was a means to use up roasted meat of any kind.  The Shepherd part didn’t come into play until 1877, and is generally used when the meat is lamb (mutton).

However, I am not a fan of mutton, plus it’s super expensive, so I opted for a more economical, typically American choice: ground turkey.  Affordable, lean, and easy to find in any grocery store, ground turkey can be a great substitute in many recipes that call for ground lamb, wild game, or beef.  The mild flavor is like a blank canvas with so many possibilities to please your palate.  If you prefer to go the traditional route, you can use mutton or beef, or even a mixture of the two, in place of the turkey.

There are quite a few steps that take you back and forth so don’t forget to read the recipe through first!  There’s a lot going on, but all the steps are oh, so worth it!  I hope you enjoy my spin on this dish.  Enjoy!  ~Joanie

Ingredients:

Mashed Potatoes:
6-8 Medium potatoes, peeled
3 Tbs butter
1 tsp garlic powder (optional)
1/2 cup full fat sour cream
Salt to taste

Pie Filling:
1 lb Ground Turkey
1 1/2 Cups fresh or frozen corn
5 Tbs butter, divided
1 Cup onion, diced
3 Celery stalks, chopped
3 Large carrots, peeled and chopped
2 Tbs all purpose flour
2 Cups turkey or vegetable broth
4-6 sprigs of fresh rosemary
1 tsp ground thyme
2 Tbs Worcestershire sauce
1 cup frozen English peas
Salt & fresh ground pepper to taste
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Directions:

Peel and quarter potatoes.  Fill a large stock pot with water, add the potatoes and bring to a boil over medium-high heat.  Once potatoes are tender, drain and set aside.

In a deep skillet or sauce pan, brown meat.  Remove the cooked meat from the pan and set aside.  Keep the pan and drippings for a later step.  (If you’re using ground beef or lamb, you may want to drain it, as these meats are much fattier than turkey.)

While the meat is browning, you should have time to caramelize the corn.  Add 1 tablespoon of the butter and the corn to a skillet and cook on medium-high heat until you see it start to turn dark golden brown, about 10-15 minutes.  Caramelizing the corn brings out the sugar and adds a really yummy layer of flavor.  Adjust the heat accordingly if it starts to scorch, you don’t want burned corn ruining your yummy dinner!  Caramelized Corn.jpg

In the pan you browned the turkey in, add 2 Tbs of the butter and let it sizzle on med-high heat for about 1 minute.  Don’t let it burn.  Add the onion and cook for about 2 minutes.  Add the carrots and celery all at once, reduce heat to medium and let it all cook together for about 5 minutes.Trinity.jpg

Make a well in the middle of the veggie pan and add 2 tablespoon of butter and 2 tablespoon of flour and whisk together to form a roux.  When the roux is golden in color, slowly begin to add about 1/2 the turkey stock, whisking as you go.  Roux.jpg

Once the mixture begins to thicken, add the rest of the stock, the fresh rosemary sprigs (whole, you’ll fish them out later), the thyme, Worcestershire sauce, English peas and salt & pepper.  Let this all cook together on medium heat for about 10 minutes.Rosemary.jpg

Now would be a good time to pre-heat your oven to 400 degrees.

Back to the potatoes: Add the butter, garlic powder, sour cream and salt to the potatoes and whip with a hand mixer on medium speed until just creamy.  Fill your piping bag/tool using a large star tip, if using, and set aside…you’re almost there.

Remove the spent rosemary sprigs from the vegetable filling.  Make sure you get all the woody stems, those are no fun to chomp down on!  Add the browned turkey and the caramelized corn to the vegetable filling.  Filling.jpg

Transfer mixture to an oven safe baking dish, making sure to leave about an inch of clearance from the top.  I used a 2 quart round dish.  This would also be really cute in individual-sized cast iron pans, but I don’t have those.  Yet.
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Pipe the potatoes onto the top of the filling.  If you don’t have a piping bag, smooth individual spoonfuls of potatoes onto the filling mixture, starting around the edges and working your way to the center.  Whether you’re using the piping or spooning method, make sure the potatoes create a good seal over the filling.
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Into your 400 degree oven it goes, MAKE SURE to put a cookie sheet or piece of foil under it because it will most likely drip…mine does every time.  =)
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Bake for about 20 minutes or until potatoes are golden brown.  If it’s bubbling around the edges but the potatoes aren’t the color you want, you can broil it for 1-2 minutes but watch it very, very, very carefully!

The insides will be scorching hot, so let it cool and set up for at least 5 minutes before serving.  Dish up and enjoy!  This one makes great leftovers too!
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Taco Soup

Tacos are one of my favorite foods and I usually make them for dinner at least once a week in one combination or another.  Tacos also make great leftovers, check out Joanie’s Southwest Enchilada recipe for a great use of leftover taco fixins!!  This week it was all about taco soup, hot and steamy, and especially satisfying with loads of cheese and cilantro to garnish. I love it SPICY (surprise, surprise), and I mean make-your-eyes-water-and-your-mouth-drool kind of spicy.  Luckily, my husband also loves a little heat.  We keep a giant jar of chili paste in the fridge and use it on almost everything.  Of course, you can make this recipe as mild or as spicy as you wish.  To make it extra fiery, try adding diced fresh jalapenos, powdered cayenne pepper or just dump in some tapatio!  To tone down the heat a bit just use plain diced tomatoes instead of the ones with green chilies and don’t use tapatio or hot sauce at the end.

I’ve been on a couponing kick lately and have gotten some great deals on canned beans, taco seasoning, canned diced tomatoes and even tortilla chips!  So I put it all together in a big pot (or crockpot) and voila: lovely, spicy, mouth watering taco soup!  This soup is perfect paired with a cold, wintery evening, and like most soups even better for lunch the next day.

Makes about 6, 1 cup servings.

Taco Soup Ingredients

Ingredients:

2 Tbs butter
1/2 sweet onion, finely diced
6-8 chicken tenderloins or about 3 breasts, cut into bite sized chunks
0ne packet of taco seasoning
A few dashes of fresh ground black pepper
2 cans chicken broth
1 can diced tomatoes with green chilies, with juice
1 can black beans, drained but not rinsed

Garnish:
Tortilla chips, roughly crumbled
Shredded cheddar, Colby jack or Mexican blend cheese
Chopped fresh cilantro
Tapatio or other hot sauce, if desired
Sour cream

Method:

In a large soup pot cook chicken and onion in the 2 Tbs butter until chicken is cooked through and onion softens.Taco soup Meat

Add a few dashes of freshly ground black pepper, about 1/2 a can of the chicken broth, and the taco seasoning.  Stir around and scrape the bottom of the pan to unstick all those yummy chicken bits.Taco Soup Simmer

Let simmer for a couple minutes, stirring occasionally and adding a little more broth if it gets too dry and thick.  Add the rest of the chicken broth, the diced tomatoes with chilies and the black beans and let soup come back to a simmer.  Salt as needed.  🙂Taco Soup Beans

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Ladle the soup into bowls and garnish with shredded cheese, crumbled tortilla chips, sour cream and cilantro!  I put a few dashes of hot sauce in it as well.  Enjoy!Taco Soup Final w Title

Wheat n Honey Bread

There’s something satisfying about making food from scratch using delicious, wholesome ingredients.  I love knowing exactly what is in the foods that my family and I are eating, and I think we all appreciate it more when there’s a little elbow grease involved in making it.  My sister in Alaska frequently grinds her own wheat for bread (she also has six kids and a full time job).  I would LOVE to do this, but in reality I just don’t have the kitchen space for a wheat grinder right now.  Hopefully in a few months I will have that needed space, and someday I hope to grow my own wheat too.  For now, I buy my flour.

This recipe is the best I’ve found to make yummy wheat bread that is perfect for slicing for sandwiches or toast.  I used it for French toast this morning and it was delicious as well!  As you can see, this bread is pretty versatile and you won’t want store-bought bread after you make this.  This bread was adapted from a cookbook called Baking With Julia (Childs).  I’ve changed a few things and added a couple more to fit my tastes.  The wheat gluten I’ve added is essential for getting a good rise and a light, fluffy loaf.  You can find wheat gluten in your local super market.  Also, don’t skimp on the kneading, you don’t want to end up with a brick!
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Ingredients:

2 1/4 cups of warm water (105-115 degrees Fahrenheit)
1 Tbs active dry yeast
1/3 cup honey
2 cups (plus 1/4 cup for kneading) all purpose flour
3 cups whole wheat flour
1 1/4 Tbs salt
1/4 cup wheat gluten
1 Tbs vegetable or canola oil, plus more for oiling the bowl

Directions:
Pour 1/2 cup of the warm water into the bowl of a stand mixer.  Add the yeast and honey and whisk slightly to blend.  Allow the mixture to rest for approximately 5 minutes until bubbly.IMG_4707

In a separate bowl, combine 2 cups of the all purpose flour and 3 cups of the whole wheat flour, gluten and salt.  Stir to combine and set aside.
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Using your mixer on low speed with a dough hook attached, add the rest of the warm water to the yeast mixture, also add the oil and about half of the flour mixture one cup at a time, scraping sides as needed.IMG_4708

On low speed, add the rest of the flour.  Increase the mixer speed to medium, stopping to scrape down the bowl and hook as needed, until the dough comes together.
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If dough is too dry add a teaspoon of water, if too sticky, add a tablespoon of a/p flour. Continue to knead at medium speed for about five minutes, until the dough is smooth and elastic.  You can skip kneading by hand in the next step if you increase kneading time in the mixer by five minutes.  I don’t recommend this though.  Your mixer motor could get really hot and possibly burn out.  Kneading dough by hand is more romantic anyway and it’ll make you appreciate the bread more.  Also, you’ll get killer arms and shoulders if you do this on a regular basis!
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Flour a clean counter top and put dough out.  Knead the dough by hand for 8 to 10 minutes.   This dough will be slightly sticky(tacky) even after it’s kneaded sufficiently.  If the dough is really sticky (sticks to your palms while kneading) add flour a sprinkle at a time until it barely sticks to your palm when kneading.

Once you are done kneading, shape the dough into a ball and place it into a large oiled bowl (big enough to hold at least double the volume of your dough).  Turn dough once to coat both sides.  Cover the bowl tightly with plastic wrap and let the dough rest at room temperature until it doubles in volume, about 1 1/2 hours.
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Oil or butter the bottom and sides of two 9×5 (I recommend glass) loaf pans and set them aside.  Punch down the dough and turn it out on to a lightly floured surface.
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Divide the dough in half.  Using your hands or a rolling pin, roll the dough into a 9×12 rectangle.  The dimensions don’t have to be perfect, but it should be uniform.  with your dough laying vertically start rolling the dough (snuggly, but not tight) roll it all the way to the other end and pinch to seal the edges.  Gently tuck the ends under to make it look nice and set the bread in the loaf pan.
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Turn the dough so that seem side is down and tuck in the ends just enough so the dough will fit nicely in the pans.
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Drop the dough in the pans and cover loosely with oiled plastic wrap (the easiest way to oil plastic wrap is to spread it on a flat surface and spray with cooking spray, then pick it up two edges and drape over the dough).  Allow the dough to rise again until about double in the pans.  This will take about another hour.
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In the meantime, turn oven on 375 degrees Fahrenheit.

The breads is risen sufficiently when it is about double and if you poke a finger into it, the impression your finger makes stays in the bread.  Bake in the oven for about 25 minutes.  The internal temperature should be 200 degrees Fahrenheit when bread is done.
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Turn bread out onto cooling racks right away and let them cool to almost room temperature before slicing.  Keep bread sealed in a plastic bread bag, it should last for 2-3 days before getting dried out.  You can also freeze it.

Southwest Enchiladas

Taco salad is a staple in my household.  We probably have it 3-4 times a month.  I cook and season the meat and make a bean salad, then it’s a free-for-all where we each get to build our own salad.  The only problem is we ALWAYS have leftover meat and beans and, even though we love it, we get kind of bored after the 2nd day of taco salad leftovers.  That in mind, I decided to work on a dish that would use all those leftovers and turn it into something new.  SUCCESS!  Those same savory southwestern spices carry over beautifully into this dish, but in the form of a hot, gooey, delicious enchilada.  And the best part is, they are so easy, even if you don’t have a bunch of leftovers to use up.  Prep takes about 20 minutes and baking is minimal since the filling is already hot.  We still love Taco Salad, but now we also look forward to “leftover” enchiladas.

This full recipe makes a about 18 enchiladas.

Ingredients:
1 lb ground beef or turkey, or pre-cooked shredded chicken*
2 Tbs taco season
1 can black beans, drained and rinsed
1 cup frozen corn**
3 green onions, chopped
¼ cup fresh diced tomato
½ cup fresh cilantro
1 Tbs lime juice
1 Tbs cumin
1 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp salt
3 +/- Tbs coconut or canola oil
18 +/- corn enchiladas
2 10 oz cans red enchilada sauce
1 1/2 cups shredded mexican blend cheese

*If you want to make this a vegetarian dish, simply replace the meat with an additional can of beans or about 1 1/2 cups cooked quinoa.

**You can also use grilled sweet corn when it’s in season, which is what I prefer.  The grill adds so much flavor!

Directions:

Preheat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.

If using ground beef or turkey, brown meat in a skillet.

Add taco season and 1/4 cup water to meat and allow to simmer about 5 minutes.

To the skillet add beans, corn, tomatoes, 2 of the onions, cilantro, lime juice and spices. Reduce heat to medium low and allow the mixture to heat through.

In a separate small frying pan, heat oil on medium-high heat.  Once it’s hot, fry the tortillas one-by-one, about 10 seconds on each side.  Drain on paper towels and allow tortillas to cool enough to handle.

Coat the bottom of a 9×13 pan (or 2 8×8′s as I did) with a few tablespoons of enchilada sauce.

Spoon about ¼ cup of filling mixture into each tortilla plus a pinch of cheese.  Fold over filling and place enchiladas seam-side-down in the pan.

Top with remaining enchilada sauce.

Cover with remaining cheese and green onion.

Bake for about 20 minutes or until cheese is melted and starts to brown.  

Pile on sour cream, diced avocado, shredded lettuce, black olives, jalapeno’s or whatever toppings your prefer.  Eat up!

Six Pepper Chili

I love chili! Probably partly because I like spicy food and I put a lot of kick into my chili.  In our house, when Joanie and I were kids, chili was a staple and it was always homemade. Sometimes we would even make moose chili but that’s a whole other blog!

Over the years I’ve tried many different chili styles adding this or that, making it spicy or mild, or trying different meat or beans.  I even made it cheesy a time or two, which essentially turned out to be a chili dip that went perfectly with nacho cheese Doritos!  I finally perfected this chili on a crisp autumn evening up at our cabin in the mountains.  I also recently used it to win a chili cook-off!  One thing I would change in this recipe is I would fire roast all of the peppers to bring out all of the flavors in the different varieties.  This one is a little spicy, fair warning.  If you don’t want as much spice, omit the cayenne pepper and jalapeno.  ~Janna

Serves: 12

Ingredients:

1 lb sweet Italian pork sausage
10-12oz of pearl onions, whole (or 1 medium yellow onion roughly chopped)
1 red or green bell pepper, diced
2 Serrano peppers, diced
2 jalapeno peppers, diced
2 poblano peppers, diced
12 oz bottle of beer
2 cans 15oz tomato sauce
1 can 12oz tomato paste
1 can, 14.5oz fire roasted diced tomatoes
2 cans 15.25oz each of dark kidney beans, drained but not rinsed
Cayenne pepper
1 Tbs Chili powder
2 tsp garlic powder
2 Tbs Worcestershire sauce
1/2 Tbs sugar
black pepper
salt to taste

Method:

Brown pork in a skillet on med/high heat.

In large stock pot, sauté onions and all peppers. Once tender, (about 5-7 minutes) add the bottle of beer and stir a couple of minutes.

Add the tomato paste, tomato sauce, diced tomatoes and beans, stir to combine and bring back to a simmer.

Add the pork without draining (unless there is tons of grease) and all of the spices.  Stir to combine and Simmer at least 1 hour.  Salt to taste and enjoy on a cold winter evening!6 Pepper Chili with Title

America’s Test Kitchen Banana Bread

I have been baking banana bread as far back as I can remember.  It was one of the first things I learned how to make by myself when I was a kid.  I remember pulling the steaming loaves out of the oven and being so proud of my creation!  They never lasted long, and to this day, banana bread is one of my favorite comfort foods.

This recipe is not the same recipe I used growing up.  It is a creation of America’s Test Kitchen and was introduced to me through a foodie friend at work who generously shared the banana bread she had made with the rest of the office.  Although I wasn’t fast enough to snag a piece out of her bread from the break room, she did provide me with the recipe.  After hearing the comments around the office, I knew I had to make it for myself. Seriously, this is the most banana-y banana bread I’ve ever had and it is so incredibly moist!  Don’t scoff at the little bit of extra work with the bananas because THAT is what makes it so incredible.  Just do it, you will be rewarded!

When selecting bananas, be sure to use those that are heavily speckled, or even black.  If you are one of those people who freezes bananas, this is YOUR recipe!! The darker the banana, the sweeter and more developed the banana taste will be.  A lot of grocery stores will even sell these “overripe” bananas at a deeply discounted price.  Yes, those mushy, black banana’s seem really gross, but trust me, you’ll be hoarding them in your freezer like they are gold once you’ve seen (and tasted) what they can do.

Ingredients:

1 ¾ Cups unbleached all purpose flour
1 tsp baking soda
½ tsp table salt
5 large very ripe bananas, peeled
8 Tbsp (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted and cooled slightly
2 Large eggs
¾ cup packed light brown sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
½ cup walnuts, toasted and coarsely chopped (optional)
2 tsp granulated sugar

**Note:  The photo below shows baking powder, which is NOT in the recipe…my mistake!

Directions:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Spray an 8 ½  by 4 ½ inch loaf pan with nonstick cooking spray.

Whisk flour, baking soda, and salt together in a large bowl.

Place bananas in a microwave safe bowl.  I used a round casserole dish with a lid.  You can use plastic wrap with a few cut steam vents to cover if you don’t have a lid, but personally I avoid putting plastic in the microwave.  

Microwave on high power until bananas are soft and have released most of their liquid, about 5 minutes.Transfer bananas to a fine mesh strainer placed over a bowl and allow them to drain, turning the bananas occasionally for about 15 minutes.  You should end up with ½ – ¾ cup of liquid.  

Transfer liquid to a small saucepan and cook over medium-high heat until reduced to about ¼ cup.  Liquid should be light caramel color and thick, almost as thick as syrup.  I stirred mine pretty vigorously and ended up with some bubbles, but you get the idea.

Remove from the heat and stir this reduced liquid back into your mashed bananas and mash everything together with a potato masher.  The original recipe says “mash until fairly smooth” but mine never made it to that point…it stayed semi-lumpy.  I’m sure whatever stage of lumpiness your bananas end up is just fine.

Whisk in melted butter, eggs, brown sugar, and vanilla.


Pour banana mixture into your flour mixture and stir until just combined.  Do not over stir. Some flour streaks are okay.  Gently fold in walnuts if you’re using them.

Scrape batter into prepared pan and sprinkle granulated sugar evenly over the surface.

Bake until a toothpick inserted into the center of the loaf comes out clean, approx 55-75 minutes.  Cool bread in the pan on a wire rack for about 15 minutes, then remove loaf from pan and continue to cool on a wire rack.

**Note:  I used a mini loaf pan and a muffin pan instead of the larger, single loaf pan.  I started checking them at 30 minutes.  The muffins were slightly drier than the loaf and I would probably turn the oven down a few degrees the next time.

***Variation:  I added ½ cup of flaked coconut to the muffins and they were SO good!

Slice loaf and serve slightly warm or room temperature.  Enjoy!

Hearty Beef Stew

This beef stew is the best beef stew you will ever have!  It’s loaded with delicious meat potatoes, veggies and fresh herbs. It’s slow simmered to get a thick, silky broth that is perfect for sopping up with a crusty piece of French bread with homemade butter.  This is one of those times when I wish I still lived in a cabin in the woods in Alaska.  I’m sure fresh moose steak or caribou would be fabulous in this stew.  I can just imagine the stew simmering away all day while I’m out shoveling snow or bringing in fire wood.  I envision my husband’s soggy coat and gloves hanging by the wood stove to dry after a hard days work.  The sun is going down, making way for a frosty evening, the perfect accompaniment to a bowl of hearty stew.  Is your mouth watering yet?  Mine is.

Beef Stew Ingredients

Ingredients:

1lb Stew beef chunks or any beef steak cut into bite sized chunks
4 Tbs butter
2 Tbs flour
1 sprig of fresh rosemary
2 sprigs of fresh thyme
2 bay leaves
1/2 tsp dried parsley
Freshly ground black pepper
3 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
1 1/2 cups of pearl onions, or any onion
1 cup of chopped celery
2 cups of chopped carrot
3 cups of marble potatoes or any potatoes cut into bite sized chunks
4 cups of beef stock
1 cup red wine (I used syrah)
2 Tbs Worcestershire sauce

Method:

Brown beef in a skillet.
Beef Stew Beef

In a large stew pot, melt butter on low heat, when melted add the flour a little at a time and whisk until you make a paste called a roux.  Add the garlic, onion, celery, carrot, thyme, rosemary, black pepper, bay leaves and cook on low for a few minutes.
Beef Stew Roux

Add the beef stock, cooked beef, potatoes, wine and Worcestershire sauce.  Simmer on low/med heat for 2-3 hours, stirring occasionally.  If stew isn’t as thick as you like, make a thickener by whisking 1/2 cup of cold water with 2 Tbs flour, pour into soup and stir.
Beef Stew in Crock

Ladle into bowls, serve with crusty bread slathered with homemade butter and enjoy!
Hearty Beef Stew 2

Chocolate Dipped Cherries

This post is dedicated to our beautiful Mama.  She always worked hard to make life special for each one of her 6 children.  We lived in “the woods” in Talkeetna, Alaska, a very small town that is an hours drive from the nearest suburban town.  For us, the finer things in life did not come from a store, but from Mom’s hands.  She made a lot of our clothes (and our doll clothes!), cooked and baked from scratch, and always let us help even though I’m sure our “helping” just made more work for her.

Chocolate dipped cherries were one of Mom’s special Christmas tradition.  I remember watching her make them step-by-step, anticipating when we could FINALLY partake in this gooey, sweet treat.  It was always worth the wait.  I have continued this cherished tradition into my adult life…and I even like to indulge once in a while and make them on non-Christmas occasions. =)

And what better occasion to make these beautiful candies than Valentines Day!!!  A day filled with love and flowers and romance pretty much demands an accompanying sweet treat.  The fact that you put the time and effort into hand making each cherry makes them than much sweeter.  Your Valentine, or whomever you are making these for, will taste the love.  ❤

Ingredients:
25-35 Maraschino cherries WITH stems
3 Tbs unsalted butter, room temperature
3 Tbs light corn syrup
2 cups powdered sugar (+extra for kneading), sifted
1 lb (approx) melting chocolate
double boiler
Optional: decorative mini candy cups

Directions:
Start by draining your cherries on paper towels.  You can do this a couple hours ahead of time, just don’t let your cherries get shriveled!  Four hours is probably the max time you want to leave them out.  I usually set mine out about ½ hour before I begin, change the towels once and blot the tops when I’m ready to work with them.  If your cherries are too wet on the outside, the juice will begin to break down the dough before you’ve had a chance to dip them.

Next, prepare your sweet dough, the gooey filling of the cherry.  Mix butter and corn syrup together to form a paste.  

Add in the sifted powdered sugar and stir until combined.  If your “dough” looks like a crumbly mess, perfect!  Now get your clean hands in there and start squishing until the dough will stick together.  Knead it on a clean counter top until it forms a smooth dough.

Optional:  To ensure you have enough dough, divide it into portion sizes (about 1 tsp) for the amount of cherries you need.

Shape your dough around each cherry and set aside on wax/parchment paper.


Next, break up your chocolate block into small, uniform pieces.  This helps it melt quickly and evenly.

**You can use chocolate chips instead, but they have an additive to help them keep their shape which affects the tempering process.  You can also use chocolate melting wafers, but a lot of the time those aren’t made of real chocolate and you can definitely taste the difference!

Measure out your chocolate.  About 1 lb should do.  You will have extra in the end, but you need the chocolate to be deep enough in your pan to be able to dip the cherry in.

Add water to the bottom of your double boiler and turn the heat on LOW.  The steam from this water will heat  your chocolate pan at a gentler temperature.  Chocolate tempering is not hard to do, but it does take patience.  Don’t be tempted to turn the heat  up, lest you end up with grainy chocolate.  Low and slow is the key!

If you don’t have a double boiler (I don’t) you can improvise…sometimes I use a metal milk steaming pitcher set on a steam basket in a sauce pan.  This time I balanced a saucepan over a slightly smaller one.  Sounds a little precarious, but it worked great!  The thing to remember is that you don’t want direct heat and you don’t want ANY steam vapor or water droplets to get into the chocolate.  Heed my warning, water in your chocolate will ruin it.  For more on tempering chocolate, check out this article.
Using a candy thermometer, monitor the temperature of your chocolate.  You don’t want it to get above 110 degrees Fahrenheit.  Stir frequently but gently to make sure you aren’t getting any hot spots. 

While you’re patiently waiting you can set out your candy cups if you’re using them, or spread out a sheet of wax paper for the dipped cherries to dry on.

Holding the cherries by the stem, dip them one at a time into the prepared chocolate, making sure to completely seal them, paying special attention to the base of the stem.  Any holes or breaks will allow the filling to ooze out  You don’t want that.  Allow any excess chocolate to drip off.

Place the dipped cherries stem side up in your candy cups or wax paper and chill until firm (but don’t freeze!).

Now, here’s the thing…you can eat these now, they are incredible!  OR, you can allow them to “ripen” in the refrigerator for a week to allow the cherry juice and the sugar dough to meld together to form that ooey-gooey filling that makes traditional cherries oh-so-messy to eat.  Personally, I like them fresh, but I’m not picky.  =)

Happy Valentine’s Day!!