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Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Check It Out: Helpful Hints from Freixenet for NYE

I'm in the middle of a house purge which means tackling the piles of accumulated wealth that have stacked themselves in every corner of my house. While engaging in a bout of "Dire, Must Keep This!" and "Where Did This Come From?" I rediscovered a little gem that seems holiday appropriate for this evening.

Apparently during the many years in which I made a bottle of Freixenet central to my New Year's celebrations, I acquired a copy of their The Freixenet Social Survival Guide. Great little book and a fun read. It covers all your Party Guest/Host Do's and Dont's plus so much more.

They also had a section which seemed perfect for this evening so I thought I would end this year by sharing some helpful passages brought to you by the makers of this fine bubbly beverage with many wishes from me for a Happy New Year and Bon Appetit for 2015!

Selections from "Chapter 4 -- Cheers" (p. 39-48)


By the stem. Always by the stem. If you hold it by the bowl, cold white wines, champagnes, and martinis will lose their chill, while cellar-temperature reds will become too warm.


Never drink to your own toast -- that is, when you're the one being toasted. It's equivalent to giving yourself a pat on the back.


Whether it's a prestige selection from an ancient winery or a young, punky blend from a place you've never heard of, you should give every bottle of opening that even a seasoned sommelier would approve of.


Make sure the champagne bottle has been stored on its side and hasn't been jostled recently. Check the temperature: it should feel like it just came out of the refrigerator (about 45° F.). If it's a bit tepid, put it on ice in a champagne bucket for 20 minutes.

1. Keep the bottle pointed away from every living creature, including yourself.

2. Prop the bottle on a table or counter top.

3. Remove the foil wrapper from the top part of the neck area.

4. Cover the top of the bottle with a cloth (a linen napkin or hand towel will do just fine).

5. While keeping the cork stabilized with one hand, loosen but don't remove the metal cage that holds the cork in place. This is done by untwisting the protruding wire loop. Never leave the cork unattended with the wire cage off.

6. Grasp the cork firmly. Hold the bottle from the base with your thumb inside the well and slowly twist it out from under the cork. Though you may hear a muffled pop, the bottle will likely let out a gentle sigh when the deed is done. 

7. Use a slow hand when decanting the bubbly into champagne flutes. Tilting the glass while pouring will help keep it from foaming up, but a slow, steady, trickle-like pour is the best strategy.


Use narrow flutes or slightly flared tulip glasses when serving champagne. And don't chill the stemware. Sparkling wine is at its friskiest when served in cool, dry glasses.


The Freixenet Social Survival Guide by Todd Lyon
Random House, Inc. (2000) / ISBN 0-609-50344-8

Freixenet comes from a Spanish winery who produces sparkling wine using the méthode champenoise (champagne method).  Because as you may know, only sparkling wines from the French province of Champagne can be called such.

My favorite is the Cordon Negro Brut (all black bottle), but Freixenet has a variety of cavas that you can try out, depending on what your taste runs to. 

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Dark Chocolate Salted Caramel Pecan Fudge

I am discovering that my favorite treats to experiment with are ice cream and fudge.  When you can establish a good base recipe, it makes an excellent platform for experimentation.  I like to explore new taste options or try variations on things I've tasted elsewhere. As salted chocolates are still pretty trendy, I thought I'd give it a whirl myself.

If you are looking for an easy-to-make hostess gift for New Year's, I think you should try this.


2 cups dark chocolate chips
1 cup milk chocolate chips
1 (14 oz.) can sweetened condensed milk
1/2 cup chopped pecans
1/2 cup caramel bits
1 to 1-1/2 tbsp. grinder salt

In a deep saucepan over low heat, melt together the chips and condensed milk until smooth and well blended.

Fold in the pecans and caramel bits and pour into an 8" x 8" (or 9" x 9") baking pan lined with wax paper, and spread out evenly and smoothly.

Sprinkle the salt on top.

Put in the fridge to set for at least 30 minutes before removing and cutting into bite-sized pieces.

Ready to package or to nibble at your leisure.


I found some caramel bits at Southern Season in Charleston which I used for this recipe, but Kraft makes caramel bits too.  If you can't find those, you can small dice the wrapped caramels to add to the mix.

I also used Celtic Sea Salt (a Christmas gift from my good friend CJ) as my salty sprinkle, but you can use whatever kind you'd like.  You want a nice rough grain salt to stand out on top of your treat. 

Treat boxes are pretty easy to find these days, I get mine from Not Just Paper in Durham, NC (red ones), but you can also find them in Michael's or AC Moore's (usually white ones).  I use 1/2 pound boxes lined with wax paper.

Then I either pre-cut the fudge into bite-sized pieces (will fit 8-10 depending on what you call bite-sized) or cut out a piece that just fits in the box and include a little plastic knife in the box so your recipient can cut their own pieces.  Tie up with a decorative ribbon and you're all set.

Monday, December 29, 2014

Dad's Favorite Congo Bars

For the pater's birthday this year, I had a request for the Congo Bars like his grandmother used to make.  Wasn't sure what to expect, but the best way to describe them is chocolate chip nut bar on steroids. Chewy and crunchy-crusted and big and delicious.  You'll find out why Dad is such a fan.


2-3/4 cups sifted flour
2-1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. salt
2/3 cup shortening
2-1/4 cups brown sugar
4 eggs
1 cup chopped nuts (I used walnuts)
1 (12 oz.) pkg. semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 tsp. vanilla

Mix together flour, baking powder, and salt.  Set aside.

In a deep saucepan, melt shortening.

Once liquid, mix in brown sugar and mix to a paste.

Remove from heat and allow to cool slightly.

Add in eggs, one at a time, mixing well after each egg.

Add in dry ingredients, a bit at a time until all is well blended.

Stir in vanilla then fold in nuts and chocolate chips.

"Pour" mixture into a greased 8"x 12" pan (can use 9" x 13") and spread out evenly.

Bake at 350 degrees for 25-30 minutes or until center is cooked through (use a toothpick to test).

Remove from oven, slice, scarf down, enter Congo Bar coma.


Do NOT melt shortening and brown sugar together. Someone may have learned the hard way that if you do them together they form a crumbly mixture (versus a smooth paste) and thus can't be mixed well with other ingredients. 

Congo Bars ARE supposed to be "cakey and moist" in the center, not "raw and doughy."  

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Check It Out: Spiced Cranberry Prosecco Punch

With New Year's right around the corner, if you are looking for a festive beverage, you need to check this out. It's not a recipe of mine, but one I want to point you in the direction of. I've had this concoction a couple of times at holiday fiestas hosted by my friends Dana and Mike. It is ridiculously addictive and usually requires them re-batching several times during the evening.

When I finally got around to asking Dana for the recipe, it turns out that she got it online from "Heather Christo: Eat Well, Live Free. Deliciously Allergy Free Recipes," a great website you should check out. She has really sexy food photos. I've paraphrased the original recipe here for your convenience, but for how-to photos go check it out on her webpage.

Spiced Cranberry Prosecco Punch (paraphrased from Heather Christo)
makes 20 servings

cranberry ice cubes
2 ice cube trays
fresh or frozen cranberries

Place the cranberries in the ice cube trays, fill with water and freeze until hard, at least 4 hours to overnight.

spiced punch
bag of party ice
4 cinnamon sticks
zest of 2 oranges
5 cups cranberry juice
3 cups orange juice*
2 bottles Prosecco
2 oranges (regular or blood), sliced
1 cup dark rum or bourbon (optional)

Put bag ice and cranberry ice cubes in a large punch bowl or punch dispenser. See photo above.

Add in cinnamon sticks, orange zest and orange slices, then pour in the cranberry and orange juices.

Next stir in the prosecco and mix well.

Voila! Delicious, delicious, tantalizingly addictive punch.


*You can do orange juice with no pulp or some pulp.  If you are using a regular open punch bowl, it doesn't really matter, if you are using a punch dispenser as shown above, you may have some spigot blockage if you get an orange juice with too much pulp in it so heads up on that.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Rustic Cranberry Pear Tart

Hello and happy holiday season!  I've been a slacker, no excuses, but have been stockpiling ideas so trying to get back into my groove before the end of the year rolls around.

Here is another rustic tart I think you are going to like.  Since both pears and cranberries are in season, I thought I might let them hang out together in a quick to make dessert.  Great for gifting or just tearing into with your loved ones (if you so inclined to share).

Rustic Cranberry Pear Tart

tart dough
1-1/2 cups flour
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1/8 tsp. salt
6 oz. (1-1/2 sticks) cold butter, cubed
1/3 cup cold water

4 tsp. sugar
2 tsp. flour

2 pear, peeled and sliced thin
1/2 cup whole cranberries
2 tbsp. brown sugar
1 tsp. cinnamon

To make the crust:

Mix together 1-1/2 cups of flour with the cinnamon and salt.

Cut in the cold butter cubes with a pastry blender or fork until the mixture forms pea-sized crumbs.  You can also put ingredients in a food processor and pulse on low until it crumbs.

Make a well in the center of the mixture and pour in the water.  Using your hands, knead the ingredients together until they form a ball.

Roll out onto a floured surface and knead for 2-3 minutes.  Roll out with a rolling pin to a thickness of approximately 3/8".

Cover a large cookie sheet or pizza pan with parchment paper.  Use the rolling pin to roll up your flattened dough and transfer to the papered surface.

Mix together the remaining 2 tsp. flour with the sugar and sprinkle across the surface of the dough.

For photos of the how-to process, click here.

For the filling:

Mix together pear slices, cranberries, brown sugar and cinnamon, then pour into the middle of the rolled out crust, spreading it out evenly.

Fold the edges of the crust over the edges of the filling.

Bake at 350 degrees for an hour until edges are browned. Remove from oven and allow to set for a minute before serving.


The tart is not overly sweet, the cranberries provide a nice tart flavor to offset the milder pears.

You can serve hot, cold, or at room temp.  With a bit of French vanilla ice cream on the side, you cannot go wrong.  

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Flatbread Pizza with Spaghetti Squash, Pear, Brussel Sprouts and Balsamic Drizzle

Okay that's a very long name for a food, but no real easy to shorten it so there you go.

Though I took a short sabbatical from posting, food is never far from my mind and I'm looking forward to bringing you some new fall dishes and dessert treats as we go into the holiday season.

But to start, brussel sprouts...they really are the most adorable little mini cabbages!  Teeny and delicious and very fun to cook with.  So the inspiration for this pizza came from the flatbread appetizer I'd mentioned last time. Made one or two K2 alterations and voila! Something new and exciting.

Flatbread Pizza with Spaghetti Squash, Pears, Brussel Sprouts and Balsamic Drizzle
Since this is a pizza recipe, I don't have exact measurements for everything, just adjust the amounts to what you like and go from there.

Flatbread rounds
Olive oil
Spaghetti squash, roasted and "spaghetti'd"
Brussel sprouts, quartered
Pear, sliced thin
White cheddar cheese, shredded
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar, reduced


Spaghetti Squash -- cut the squash in half, scoop out the guts, bake at 350 degrees (face up) for 30-40 minutes.  Take a fork and scrape the insides out to spaghetti it.

Brussel Sprouts -- quarter the sprouts and dry fry them (no oil or coating) in a non-stick pan for 4-5 minutes or until fork tender (and not zombified).

Pear -- slice the pear very thin (1/8") and dry fry them in a non-stick pan for 2-3 minutes or until almost translucent.

Balsamic Vinegar -- in a small saucepan, bring 1/4 cup balsamic to a boil, allow to boil for 3-4 minutes, until it starts to reduce.  Set aside and let it continue to reduce in the pan away from the heat. You can use whatever type of balsamic you'd like, I actually had a sample bottle of Cranberry Pear Balsamic that really did the trick.


I brushed my flatbread with olive oil to give it a minimum coating and add some moisture.

Then I laid my pear slices down, sprinkled them with the shredded white cheddar.

Next I added the brussel sprouts and covered it all with a thin layer of the spaghetti squash.

Finally, I drizzled a moderate amount of the balsamic reduction across the top of the pizza.

Baked at 350 degrees for about 10 minutes, though you can do less time or more time depending on how done you like your pizza.

All that's left is to slice and enjoy.

Little shout out here to my friend Bethany who served as guinea pig on this my latest culinary experiment.  It got a two thumbs up so I think you're going to like it too.


Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Good and Good For You: Brussel Sprouts

Okay, I've got to be honest with you, I've never been a big fan of the brussel sprout. Despite it's adorable teeny weeny cabbage cuteness, there was just something so green and healthy and green about it that as a child I avoided them like little mini plagues.

Well a couple of weeks ago, I was at one of my favorite dining spots, a lovely wine bar with an ever-changing menu, and for one of their selections that evening they had a flatbread with shaved brussel sprouts, grilled spaghetti squash, phaeta, and toasted almonds with a balsamic drizzle. Un-for-get-able. Loved the flavor combo so much it made me want to try it at home so that will be coming at you in the next post.

But in the meantime, I wanted to reexamine these brussel sprouts (pronounced with a hint of condescension). And guess what, they turn out to be very good for you.


Brussel sprouts are a cruciferous veggie like broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage and kale.

They are chocked full of sulforaphane, a compound believed to have strong anticancer properties. The compound acts as a detoxifier and helps the body clear itself of potential carcinogens.

Sulforaphane in combination with the veggie's high fiber content contributes to reducing bad cholesterol as well as removing toxins that contribute to aging.  

Brussel sprouts are a good source of vitamin A, C and K. 

Though it is recommended that heart patients taking anticoagulants should not eat excessive amounts of brussel sprouts because vitamin K helps to clot blood.

Like other cruciferous veggies, brussel sprouts contain indoles (organic compounds) which are being studied for their affects on cell repair which makes them a great anti-aging veggie treat.

When you buy brussel sprouts, you want to choose those with tight, bright green heads, avoid any with yellow on the leaves.

It is best to cut the stem off up to the base of the leaves and to score them deeply once or twice to help ensure that they cook through.

They don't need long to cook, 5-7 minutes depending on your method. Brussel sprouts can be boiled, grilled, roasted, steamed, or stir-fried. Boiling tends to leach out the nutrients that make them so good for you while roasting them brings out their best flavor.

DO NOT overcook brussel sprouts! This cannot be emphasized enough. Because they basically turn into a zombiefied version of themselves -- they turn grey, get mooshy, smell bad, and take on a much less than pleasant taste.

Brussel sprouts DO taste best, though, when serve with apple cider vinegar, balsamic vinegar, mustard, Parmesan cheese, bacon, meaty nuts (like almonds, pine nuts, chestnuts or pistachios), brown sugar, and/or pepper.

So...yum, let's give these veggies a whirl.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Ooey Gooey Crunchy Chewy Monster Eyeballs

I know using "eyeballs" in a food title is problematic but it's almost Halloween!!!  I will warn you that while these are adorably disturbing, they are a little messy to make...but delicious.

Ooey Gooey Crunchy Chewy Monster Eyeballs

1-1/4 cup dried apricots, small chopped
1 cup dates, small chopped
1 cup pecans, small chopped
1 cup flaked, sweetened coconut
1 can (14 oz.) condensed milk
4-5 graham crackers, crushed
1 (16 oz.) package milk chocolate CandiQuik
Wilton candy eye

In a large bowl, mix together dried apricots, dates, pecans and coconut.  Add the condensed milk and mix until well blended.

Put the mixture in the fridge for about 30 minutes, letting it firm up.

Add enough crushed graham crackers to keep the mixture from being too moist and enough that you can easily roll it into 1-1/2" balls.  Place balls on a cookie sheet covered with wax paper.

Melt the chocolate bark over low heat.  Once ready to go, dip the balls in the chocolate, shake off any excess, and replace on wax paper.  Pop a candy eye on the top before the chocolate hardens.

Spooktacular!  Nice little rush sugar for all the little ghoulies to enjoy.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Pumpkin Pie'scream

I've not been shy over the years about my undying love of all things pumpkin, and tonight I'm excited to bring you another exciting iteration of that love.  This was one of those driving home from work brainstorm creations.  As always, you're very welcome.

Pumpkin Pie'scream

1 (15 oz.) can pure pumpkin
2 cups light cream
3/4 cup sugar
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. ground ginger
1/4 tsp. ground cloves
2 eggs
1/2 cup graham crackers, broken into bits
2-3 tbsp. caramel sauce

Whisk together pumpkin, light cream, sugar, spices, and eggs in a deep saucepan.  Bring to a low boil over medium-high heat, then remove from heat.

Transfer mixture to a bowl (preferably metal) and place in the fridge to cool off.

Once the mixture has cooled to at least room temperature, put in the ice cream maker and follow directions of machine to make ice creamy.

If you don't have an ice cream maker, pour the mixture into a metal baking pan and place in the freezer.  Will take a bit longer, but will work the same.

Once the ice cream reaches soft serve stage, fold in graham cracker bits and caramel sauce (loosely so that the caramel doesn't blend too much).

Transfer to a freezer friendly container and allow to set.

Scoop up, top with some whip cream, garnish with some pecan bits and savor the pumpkin fabulousness of a non-pie piescream treat.


Dad's recommendation is to take this delicious frozen treat and put it in a pie crust and make it a Pumpkin Pie'scream Pie.  Maybe add some whip cream, a couple additional caramel drizzle might not come amiss.  Now you know where my genius comes from.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Angel of Death Brown Sugar Bacon Bites

In honor of tonight's premier of The Walking Dead, I chose to try a heavenly treat from The Snacking Dead combining the peppery pop of cayenne with the warm palate embrace of cinnamon served up on a little slice of bacon bliss.  Enjoy.

Angel of Death Brown Sugar Bacon Bites
variation on original recipe because I need new reading glasses

8 slices of bacon, each cut into 3-inch pieces
   I used a full pack, 12 slices, and cut them into thirds
1/4 cup light brown sugar
1/4 tsp. ground cayenne pepper
   I used 3/4 tsp. because of the reason italicized above
1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Line a baking sheet with foil and add the bacon pieces in a single layer.

Line another baking sheet with paper towels and place a cooling rack on top.  Spray the cooling rack with nonstick spray and set aside.

In a small bowl, stir together brown sugar, cayenne and cinnamon. Sprinkle the brown sugar mixture evenly over the bacon pieces.

Bake until the bacon is well browned, crisp and bubbling, 16-18 minutes.

Remove the baking sheet from oven.  Transfer the bacon pieces to the cooling rack and set aside to cool completely and firm up before serving.

ah, that would be Dad not waiting until they are cooled

Deadly delightful.

Did I mention you need to get this cookbook?

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Check It Out: The Snacking Dead

Yay! It's finally October, my favorite month of the year. With Halloween creeping up at end of the month and the mid-month premiere of The Walking Dead, I found a fun new cookbook to share with you that combines some of my favorite things...creepiness, tongue-in-cheek humor, zombies, and food!

The Snacking Dead:A Parody in a Cookbook by D.B. Walker is fun and freaky. Recipes interspersed with stories of people eating...and we'll just leave it at that. All the recipes tie into the tale of action, drama, and culinary acumen.

How can you pass on Nachos of the Living Dead, Napalm Spicy Chicken Wings, Very Last Call Beer Nuts or Angel of Death Brown Sugar Bacon Bites? You can't if you expect to survive a culinary apocalypse.

Perfect for any twisted culinary cookbook collection or a great gift for your schambler-loving friends.  I give it an enthusiastic two thumbs off! ;)

The Snacking Dead:A Parody in a Cookbook
D.B. Walker
Clarkson Potter/Publishers, 2013
ISBN 978-0-7704-35448 ($19.99)

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Penne al Greco

With the weather getting cooler, I keep getting cravings for pasta so in keeping with my latest exploration of "exotic" flavors, I bring you a tasty Greek-inspired pasta dish.

Penne al Greco

1 lb. box penne pasta
1/3 cup chopped onion
1 tbsp. minced garlic
1 tbsp. olive oil
1 (28 oz.) can diced tomatoes
2 tbsp. Kalamata olives, minced
4 oz. feta cheese, crumbled
1 tbsp. fresh dill, chopped
1 tbsp. fresh oregano, chopped

Prepare noodles according to box directions.  While those are boiling, prep the sauce.

In a large skillet over medium-high heat, cook onion and garlic in olive oil until onions are translucent.  Mix in tomatoes and Kalamata olives, drop temperature to medium-low.

When the noodles are done, rinse with hot water and allow to drain.

Meanwhile, add feta cheese, fresh chopped dill and fresh chopped oregano to the sauce and mix well. 

Serve sauce over the prepared noodles, or blend them all together and enjoy! 

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Turkish Tacos

Found a new ground turkey recipe I love and changed it up a bit to make an awesome taco filling...because crunchy food is fun and tacos rock.  You're welcome. :)

Turkish Tacos

1 small onion, chopped
1 small red pepper, chopped
2 tsp. minced garlic
1 lb. ground turkey
2 tbsp. tomato paste
1-1/4 tsp. cumin
1/2 tsp. ground red pepper
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1 (14 oz.) can diced tomatoes
1/4 cup chopped olives
1/4 cup sliced almonds
1/4 cup raisins
2-3 tbsp. capers
salt and pepper, to taste

corn taco shells
shredded lettuce
shredded Monterrey Jack cheese

In a large skillet, sauté the onion, pepper, and garlic until onions are translucent.

Add in the ground turkey and cook until cooked through. Mix in the tomato paste, cumin, ground red pepper, and cinnamon.  Cook, stirring, for 2-3 minutes.

Add in the diced tomatoes, almonds, raisins and capers.  Continue to cook uncovered for 5-6 minutes.

Salt and pepper to taste.  Adjust spices as desired.

Stuff into taco shells with shredded lettuce and cheese.  Just try to stop at one, I dare you.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Saucy Jezebel

Thanks to my friend Laura, I have a new church cookbook. If you don't have one in your kitchen collection, you should rectify that. They are a great source of tried and true recipes, family hand-me-downs and family favorites.

I turned my book over to the parents for their review and selections, so tonight I am brining you the first of Dad's many choices. This is a great quick fix for a party or snack before dinner for guests.


1 (12 oz.) jar apple jelly
1 (12 oz.) jar pineapple preserves
7 tbsp. horseradish
1-1/2 tbsp. dried mustard

Blend everything together and serve up on crackers with a nice spreadable white cheese.

I used Brie on Water crackers, but you can use cream cheese on Ritz, or a Neufchâtel on whatever cracker you want.

FYI, the longer you let the spread sit, the better the flavors will blend together.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Check It Out: The Vortex (ATL)

Hello!  No, I have not fallen off the face of the earth, was just peeking over the edge for a bit.

These past couple of weeks have been Crazy!  The weekend before Labor Day, I was helping my favorite food samplers celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary.  (Yay, Mom & Dad!)  Because they did not want me to be any crazier than usual, I did not do all the catering, just their cake and my famous super secret recipe meatballs...that will probably show up in a post soon because seriously they are too good not to share. So ha-ha tease with that.

Then Labor Day weekend I was off on my annual trek to Hotlanta for Dragon*Con. (wooHoo!)  It was a weekend filled with fun stuff to see and do, made some awesome new friends and checked out a new eatery or two, which brings us to tonight's post.

The Vortex has two locations in/near downtown, but we went to Little 5 Points because to enter the restaurant there, you have to walk through a giant open-mouthed skull (and who wouldn't want to do that).

Not only is the vibe cool but there's lots to look at, the place is usually hoppin' and the food is to die for...almost literally.  Gonna apologize to all the vegetarians and non-red meaters who read this blog, but this is definitely a write-up for my meat-n-potatoes crowd.  The Vortex is famous for their crazy combo burgers and they have LOTS!

You like bacon?  You can get it on practically everything.  You a fan of the tots?  Then don't not order the ginormous bowl of tater tots, complete with cheesy dipping sauce.

If these photos don't convince you, then check out their menu, its a good read and good fun.

After a long weekend of mind-melting entertainment and activities, The Vortex was the perfect cap to a perfect trip. So when you're in Atlanta next, my meat-eating friends, make sure to check it out.