Praline Pecan Tartlets

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It’s hard to believe, but I’ve made it over 1 year smoke free. After nearly 30 years of being a smoker, I finally kicked that habit. Those of you that have stopped smoking know this and the smart people out there that never picked up the nasty habit might not, but like others my metabolism went in the toilet when I quit. I ate no more than when I smoked but weight just piled on. I went from my smoking weight of 195 to 225 before I managed to peel off 20 pounds this past summer. Still, the battle of the gut is a constant struggle with me. Working in the food industry, I am surrounded by it 12 hours a day, everywhere I turn! A lead cook will want me to try some sauce (made with butter and whipping cream of course), or my baker will prepare some new treat that I can’t resist tasting, so I’m always interested in bite-sized desserts and treats. These tasty little morsels allow those of us that can quickly consume 1000 calories in a matter of minutes, to enjoy the deliciousness of something decadent and still keep our daily caloric counts in check.

A slice of a common pecan pie like you’d make at Thanksgiving averages about 500 calories (that’s if you slice your pie into 12 servings). If you’ve purchased your pecan pie that number can double, as most thaw-and-serve pies have crusts made with lard.These tasty little phyllo cups have 75 calories each, so you can limit your intake and not feel so guilty. The crispness of the baked phyllo cup with the sweetness of the praline filing and the toasted pecan is just delectable. These are perfect for a party, tea, reception, shower or just to keep in a Rubbermaid container around the holidays. They make great treats for gift giving, especially when pared with some homemade cookies, and they are extremely simple to make. Give them a try and I’m sure you’ll love adding these to your holiday baking repertoire.

For every 15 phyllo cups (available in the frozen pastry section of most any supermarket), you will need:

  • 1 tbsp unsalted butter, melted
  • 1 large egg, beaten
  • 1 tbsp+1tsp dark brown sugar
  • 2 tbsp honey (you can slightly adjust the flavor to your taste depending on the type of honey you use but I personally just get regular amber honey when I make these tartlets)
  • 1/4 tsp pure vanilla extract (sometimes I substitute 1/4 tsp Jack Daniels whiskey in place of the vanilla, especially around Christmas)
  • 1/2 cup chopped pecans

In a mixing bowl, combine all ingredients except the pecans and mix well. Fold in the chopped pecans. Arrange phyllo cups on a baking sheet, then spoon mixture into the phyllo cups (a heaping teaspoon is a good size to fill the cups). Any extra filling can be evenly distributed between your phyllo cups.

Bake in a 350F preheated oven for 10-15 minutes, until the filling sets, the pecans begin to brown the the phyllo cups brown around the edges. Transfer baked cups to a cooling rack and begin your next batch. Be sure to cool these tartlets completely on a cooling rack. If you cool them on a pan or plate they will become soggy on the bottom and you loose that wonderful crunchiness of the phyllo pastry. Screen Shot 2017-03-18 at 7.13.15 AM

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Asian Grilled Chicken Thighs

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Today is a beautiful Sunday! Fall is in the air with high temps in the South running in the upper 60’s and I have stumbled upon newly found energy to do things around the house. Grass has been cut hopefully for the last time, cars washed, clothes are washing, I just finished vacuuming and I’m about to fire up the grill for dinner and make some tasty Asian grilled chicken thighs.

You could use any cut of chicken, but we’ve been buying a lot of boneless, skinless chicken thighs. Not only are they reasonably priced, darker meat seems to have more flavor (along with more fat, but then again, fat IS flavor). The recipe for this dinner is all in the marinade and the longer it marinates, the better the flavor. I’m going to skip cooking instructions because the way you cook chicken is entirely up to you. I’ve roasted chicken this way and it’s been delicious, but today I want to take advantage of the weather, so I’m using the grill.

Soak any chicken you prefer in the following, then simply cook and enjoy! It’s also a great way to make “Teriyaki” wings for a tailgate!

Marinade:

  • 1 cup low sodium soy sauce
  • the juice from 2 Navel oranges
  • Juice from 1 lemon
  • 4 Keffir lime leaves or you can substitute the juice of 2 fresh limes
  • 1/4 cup grated fresh ginger or 1 tbsp ground dried ginger
  • 1/4 cup sesame oil
  • 1 tbsp minced garlic
  • 1 tbsp chopped fresh cilantro

Combine all ingredients. Add chicken to big Ziploc bag, cover with marinade and put in the frig. The longer it marinates, the better, but at least 1 hour if you can’t let it go overnight.

Discard the marinade and cook the way you’d like!

Grapefruit Jam

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Lately I’ve been on a preserving kick, making jams and jellies, putting vegetables in the freezer and at the moment, gathering everything up for some homemade pickles. Everything I’ve done this year was to preserve something I had around the house, or was given, or had too much and needed to save some. Yesterday I saved 7 over ripe ruby red grapefruit from the trash can by making grapefruit jam. I love a good grapefruit and I figured people make jams, jellies and marmalades out of everything else, so why not try it. Turns out it is delicious! You could make this recipe with any citrus fruit, or a combination of several different ones. Like everything else I do, this was easy and well worth the try.

First you need to section the grapefruit. To do that, cut the ends off so your grapefruit will have a flat area to sit on. With a sharp knife, go all around the grapefruit removing the skin. This is also how I peel cantaloupe, watermelon, oranges, honeydew melons.. anything with a round shape you’d like to peel easily.

sectioning

After you’ve removed all of the skin, using a sharp knife, work in between the membranes to remove the segments from the pith. Work over a heavy bottom sauce pan so that all of the juice and fruit pieces fall into the pan. Then squeeze the juice from the membranes before discarding them. Be sure to remove any seeds that may have fallen into the pot.

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Measure out the amount of fruit/juice you have before cooking (my 7 grapefruit yielded 4 cups of fruit and juice). Bring the fruit mixture to a boil over medium high heat. Once boiling, add half as much sugar as you had fruit (for my 4 cups, I used 2 cups of sugar). Continue to boil until sugar is dissolved. Next add 1 pack of liquid fruit pectin. They say you don’t need it with grapefruit, but you do. Then add 1 tbsp butter (this keeps foam from forming on the fruit mixture while it’s boiling. Continue to boil at a rapid boil (one you can’t stir down) for at least 10 minutes. As the grapefruit get hot, they change in color to a beautiful golden orange mandarin color.

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This is what your mixture should start to look like. To test, put a saucer in the freezer to chill, then take a spoonful of the jam mixture and spread on the plate. If it sets up and doesn’t run you’re ready to can. If it runs, continue cooking longer.

To can the jam, get whatever size jars you’d like to use (I used 8- 1/2 pint jelly jars because that’s a good size to give out to friends). In another stock pot, bring water to a boil. Boil the jars, rings and lids to sanitize them. To can the jam, get a jar from the hot water and set it on a plate. Spoon the jam into the jar, leaving 1/4″-1/2″ head space at the top. Place a top on it and crank on a ring. Once you’ve filled all of your jars, drop them back into your pot of boiling water, ensuring the tops of the jars are covered, and process for 5-6 minutes. Remove from the hot water and let the jars cool on a towel or in a box. As they cool, you’ll hear them seal. They will “pop” all night. Now you’re ready to share or enjoy. Once you’ve opened a jar and broken the seal, be sure to refrigerate it.

Sliced Sweet Potato Pie

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It’s been a few months since I updated the blog, and I apologize to my followers. Back in August, I transferred from corporate dining to campus dining and I’ve been working around the clock ever since. Things are starting to calm down at work, just in time for the holidays, so I’ve been dusting off some family recipes. This is the one time of the year when  I will actually do some baking. Baking is a science and requires one to follow a recipe more closely. Those of you that know me well, know that I rarely follow a recipe as written, so baking has never been something I was enthused to do. Still, I hold the family recipes and the family expects cookies, cakes and pies when the holidays roll around.

Everyone knows how to make sweet potato pie but most people have only had the whipped up version. This version is different. It’s more elegant that something dumped out of a can. As you can see by the photo, it makes a beautiful dessert plate for the holidays and it’s not much more complicated that the baby food version.

  • 1/2 package of refrigerated pie crusts
  • 2 1/2# small sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/4″ slices
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 2 orange peel strips (use a vegetable peeler to create)
  • 1/2 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
  • 2 tbsp all purpose flour
  • 2 tsp pumpkin pie spice
  • 1 tsp loosely packed orange zest
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • Streusel topping (recipe below)

Preheat the oven to 375F. Fit the piecrust into a 9″ deep-dish pie plate, folding the edges under and crimping. In a Dutch oven, bring the potatoes, granulated sugar, orange peel and 1 cup of water to a boil. Cover and reduce heat to medium and simmer 6-8 minutes until potatoes are just tender.

Transfer the potatoes to a large colander, reserving the cooking liquid. Rinse the potatoes with cold water. Transfer the cooking liquid and orange peel strips to a small saucepan and bring to a boil over medium high heat. Reduce heat to medium and simmer, stirring occasionally, until reduced to 1/4 cup. Reserve 2 tbsp of the potato-orange liquid and discard the rest.

Transfer the potatoes to a bowl and toss with brown sugar, flour, spice and orange zest and the reserved 2 tbsp of the potato-orange liquid. Spoon into the crust. Sprinkle with streusel and bake for 1 hour and 15 minutes, shielding with foil after 30 minutes to prevent excessive browning. Cool completely and serve at room temperature.

Streusel Topping: Stir together 3/4 cup coarsely chopped pecans, 1/4 cup plus 1 tbsp all-purpose flour, 1/4 cup firmly packed light brown sugar, 3 tbsp melted butter, 1/4 tsp pumpkin pie spice and 1/8 tsp salt. Let stand for 30 minutes, then crumble into small pieces atop the prepared pie

Bloody Mary Tomato Salad with Pickled Shrimp

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The heirloom tomatoes are coming in at Pepper Place and I’m a huge fan. We buy them every chance we can get. Personally, I can eat them like an apple, but this recipe is the perfect marriage of those tomatoes with some fresh Gulf shrimp!

  • 3# assorted tomatoes, sliced (heirlooms are best, such as Cherokee Purple, Beefsteak, Brandywine, etc but any good southern ripe tomato will do)
  • 1/3 cup celery sliced thin on the bias (diagonal)
  • 1/2 cup firmly packed celery leaves (celery leaves are great for seasoning dishes and for garnishes, so don’t automatically toss them like many people do

Using a chilled serving platter, arrange the sliced tomatoes and celery. Sprinkle with cracked black pepper and sea salt to taste. Drizzle with the Bloody Mary Vinaigrette (recipe below) and spoon the pickled shrimp over the top (also below). Top with the celery leaves and garnish with pickled okra or pickled green beans. You can even add some crumbled Feta if you’d like!

For the vinaigrette:

  • 1/2 cup spicy Bloody Mary mix (like Zing Zang)
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 2 tbsp fresh lemon juice
  • 1 tbsp prepared horseradish
  • 1 tsp finely ground black pepper
  • 1 tsp hot sauce
  • 3/4 tsp celery salt
  • 1/2 tsp Worcestershire sauce

Combine ingredients in a bottle with a lid, shake and chill.

To make pickled shrimp:

In a zip top freezer bag (gallon size), add 1 pound of medium-sized peeled fresh shrimp. To the bag, add the following ingredients, then place the bag in your refrigerator for at least 2 hours but the longer you leave it in, the better. After 6 hours the shrimp will get rubbery, so 2-6 hours is the processing time.

  • 1 lemon, thinly sliced
  • 1/3 cup thinly sliced red onion
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 3 tbsp red wine vinegar
  • 2 tbsp each chopped fresh dill and flat leaf parsley
  • 1 1/4 tsp Creole seasoning (I use Old Bay)
  • 1 clove of garlic, minced

Southern Cheese Grits Casserole

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Sorry I haven’t posted in a while, but work has been zapping my creativity. Last week, I made a cheese grits casserole at work and people have been begging for an “at home recipe”, so here it is. This is great as a starch with any meal, but even better when paired with a Southern meal. If you don’t think you like grits, give this a try. This IS NOT your normal breakfast style grits.

  • 2 cups chicken stock or broth
  • 2 cups half & half
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 cup quick-cook grits
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • 1/4 cup melted butter
  • 1 cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese
  • 4 slices bacon, cooked and crumbled
  • 1 medium tomato, diced
  • 1 small can yellow kernel corn, drained
  • parsley for garnish

In a large stock pot, bring the chicken stock and half & half to a rolling bowl. Whisk in the grits and cook, stirring constantly, for 5-7 minutes until the grits begin to thicken and bubble (be careful not to let them bubble on your hand/arms as they are like LAVA). Once thickened, remove from stove and pour grits into a mixing bowl.

To the grits, add the heavy cream, melted butter, cheese, bacon crumbles, diced tomato and the corn. Stir well to combine.

Pour grits into a lightly greased casserole dish and bake at 350F for 10 minutes.

Southwestern Style Tuna Salad

Mom agreed to host a neighborhood Christmas party the day before 40+ people are scheduled to arrive at her house on Christmas Eve for our annual family dinner. She called me for suggestions on finger foods; she’s already making my “fancy” chicken salad with apples and dried cranberries and I offered to whip up a batch of jalapeno-pimiento cheese and Southwestern style tuna salad.

We make this tuna salad every day at work, along with regular tuna, regular chicken, fancy chicken and cajun chicken salads. This has turned into one of my customer’s favorites and it’s my favorite way to make tuna salad for sure! Don’t let the name, or the ingredients fool you. This is not a super-spicy salad. The addition of honey and the dairy in the Ranch cuts the heat, so you’ll just have a zesty after taste. Give it a shot the next time you’re looking for something different than a plain old tuna fish sandwich!

tuna

 

  • 2 6oz cans quality tuna packed in water, drained and flaked
  • 2 T pickle relish (we use sweet at work, I use dill at home, so it’s a matter of preference only)
  • 4 pickled banana pepper rings, minced (you can get these in jars on the pickle aisle)
  • 1 small fresh jalapeno pepper, seeded and minced (don’t touch yourself after seeding the pepper without first washing your hands!!!)
  • 2 boiled eggs, diced
  • 2 teaspoons honey
  • 1/3 cup + 1 T buttermilk ranch dressing (it’s best to use Hidden Valley made from a packet, but any will do)
  • 1 teaspoon hot sauce (I normally use Texas Pete’s at work and Tabasco at home)
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Mix all ingredients together. Taste and season to your liking. If it’s too hot for you, add a little sugar. Chill well before serving. Great on sandwiches, wraps or just to scoop and eat on a bed of lettuce.

No Fail Creole Style Bread Pudding with Whiskey Sauce

Today I was asked for the basic bread pudding recipe I make, so I figured it best if I simply shared the recipe with everyone. As I’ve said before, I make a lot of bread pudding in the cafe and I have several variations to keep the customers excited, but this recipe is for simple, straightforward New Orleans bread pudding with whiskey cream sauce. Feel free to experiment with ingredients. Sometimes I leave out the raisins and instead use dried cranberries and sliced almonds. Sometimes I use blueberries and some orange marmalade. I’ve been known to make banana pecan and at times, coffee-chocolate, but the basic recipe remains the same.

 

 

 

  • 1 loaf French bread or 12 large croissants, cubed
  • 1 quart half & half
  • 3 eggs, beaten
  • 2 cups brown sugar
  • 1 tbsp pure vanilla extract
  • 2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1 cup of raisins
  • 3 tbsp melted butter

Preheat the oven to 350F. In a large mixing bowl, combine the eggs with the half & half. Add the bread and fold to combine ingredients, then add the brown sugar, vanilla, cinnamon and raisins. Mix well. Coat a 9″x13″ glass baking dish with PAM. Pour the bread pudding mixture into the dish and drizzle the top with the melted butter. Bake for about 40 minutes, or until the center is set but still moist. If bread starts to get too brown, cover loosely with aluminum foil.

Whiskey Cream Sauce

  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 stick butter
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 1/4 cup heavy cream (whipping cream)
  • 1/4 cup quality bourbon (or rum)

Mix the butter and sugar in a double-boiler until very hot and sugar is well dissolved. In your left hand (or right if you’re left handed), slowly pour the egg and cream into the butter/sugar mixture while whisking very fast with your opposite hand. This is essentially a quicker way to “temper” the eggs so they don’t curdle. Remove from the heat and let cool completely. Mixture will slightly thicken as it cools. Just before serving, whisk in the bourbon (or rum).

To serve, plate up the bread pudding and drizzle with the whiskey sauce.

Pumpkin Pecan Bread Pudding

One thing my customers are always saying is that I make some of the best bread pudding they’ve ever eaten. I have several variations on bread pudding and try to make a pan about once a week. Blueberry, chocolate, orange-cranberry, traditional… I make whatever based on what I’ve got in the coolers and pantry.

Recently we had some croissants that were turning stale and I needed to use them. Since I’m not a true “baker”, I’ll usually look online for a recipe idea and then take off on it, because I hate following a recipe. This recipe started the same way, but because I’ve had a bumper crop of pecans from the home tree this year, I’m also looking at ways to use them in my fall cooking. This recipe can be made as a dessert or as a breakfast/brunch bread pudding. If you’re making it for the later, simply mix it up and refrigerate overnight, then bake off when you wake up.

 

  • 10 cups cubed, day-old croissants (about 5 large croissants)
  • 6 large eggs
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp pure vanilla extract
  • 1 1/4 cups pure canned pumpkin
  • 2 tsp pumpkin pie spice
  • 3 cups half & half
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1 1/2 cups toasted pecans

In a large mixing bowl, lightly beat the eggs, sugars, salt and vanilla extract. Fold in the pumpkin, then add the half & half and milk. Add the cubed croissants and toss well to incorporate. The mixture should be slightly soupy and if needed, add a little more milk.

Pour mixture into a greased 9″x13″ glass baking dish. Top with pecan halves. Bake at 350 for approximately an hour, or until a knife inserted into the center comes out with no liquid on it. Cool on a wire rack. Best served warm but not hot! (If the pecans start to get too brown during baking, cover lightly with aluminum foil)

For a breakfast/brunch serving, simply top with pure maple syrup. If you’re serving as a dessert, mix 1 box of powdered sugar with 1/4 cup fresh squeezed orange juice and top by dipping a wire whisk into the sugar glaze and lightly shaking it over the surface.

Glorious Morning Scratch Muffins

 

For the past few years, we have served a variety of fresh baked muffins at work and my customers have grown accustomed to a nice hot muffin. Like many foodservice establishments, we cheated. Our muffins were fresh baked, but not fresh made. We bought muffin batter that you “scooped and baked” to save time (and labor costs). Customers loved them, so it was a win-win situation.

Things changed when I switched companies recently. I had the same customers looking for their usual breakfast muffins, but our new grocery supplier offered a “less than favorable” alternative for muffin batter. My customers have not been happy, so I promised them I would make some scratch muffin batter this weekend to serve this coming week in the cafe.

Since baking is not my thing (I love to cook but I DESPISE following recipes), I had to scour magazines and internet recipes to try and find something I felt was comparable to what my customers are expecting tomorrow morning. This recipe is a tweak; I started with a basic muffin recipe and made it my own. They turned out delicious, so I thought I’d share with you this extremely easy recipe for making homemade muffins. You can use this recipe for for a variety of muffins by substituting the flavorful ingredients. In fact, I used the basic part of this recipe (as noted below) to create 5 varieties of muffins for breakfast tomorrow (Glorious Morning, Chocolate Chip, Blueberry, Banana Nut and Cranberry-Orange-Almond). I’m sharing the whole recipe for the Glorious Morning muffins which are by far my biggest seller, but noting where you can substitute to make other varieties.

There’s no need to buy muffin mix in a bag or box when most all these ingredients can be found in most of your pantries! Give them a shot! The good thing is, you can mix them up on Friday evening and refrigerate the batter. Then scoop into your muffin tins and bake Saturday morning!

Basic Muffin Batter:

  • 1 8oz container of sour cream
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 tbsp pure vanilla extract
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon

In the bowl of a mixer, combine the sour cream, eggs, sugar and vanilla and mix for 30 seconds. In a mixing bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, soda and cinnamon and mix to incorporate (I use a wire whisk to mix dry ingredients). Add the dry ingredients to the wet in the mixer and run on low just long enough to incorporate into a batter. That’s your basic muffin mix.

For Glorious Morning Muffins:

To the batter add 1 peeled and diced Granny Smith apple, 1/4 cup minced carrots (I use shredded carrots and pulse them in the food processor), 1 tbsp orange marmalade, 1/4 cup shredded coconut, 1/2 cup chopped pecans or almonds, 1/2 cup raisins or dried cranberries

If you wanted to make blueberry, to the batter add some fresh or thawed, frozen blueberries and add the orange marmalade.

For cranberry-orange-almond, use dried cranberries, sliced almonds and orange marmalade.

For banana nut, I use crushed pecans and 2 overly ripe bananas, smashed up with your hands or run through the food processor.

For chocolate chip, just add chocolate chip morsels straight from the bag.

Scoop muffin mix into a 12 muffin tin pan or 6 jumbo muffin pan. Bake at 325F for 18-25 minutes (depending on the size, less time for smaller muffins, more for larger) or until brown and a toothpick inserted comes out clean.