Strawberry Basil Cheesecake

If you want to squeeze in just one more strawberry dessert before the summer ends, this is the one to make!  Or if you want to save a bit of summer for when the winter blues hit, then this one will be your creamy, sweet sunshine as cheesecakes freeze and defrost easily without harm to taste or texture.  Even the strawberry basil sauce will freeze perfectly.

Pretty much everything I make starts with an inspiration, a desire, a dream (yes, I dream about food, don’t you?) or, as in this case, someone dropping by with 2 quarts of strawberries.  I’ve already made strawberry biscotti  and starting thinking about all of you canners out there, but I’m just not there yet, except for small batches that I can use up during the week. Continue reading “Strawberry Basil Cheesecake”

Coconut Macadamia Biscotti and a Product Giveaway!

All those that know me, my biscotti jar is never empty.  Even during the ups and downs of my move, I had biscotti.  They may not have been homemade, nor were they stored in my biscotti jar that was safely packed away in storage, but I did have biscotti on hand!

So as you can imagine I was eager to get back to baking biscotti.  As I started to think of what flavor my inaugural biscotti would be, I spotted the jar of coconut oil that I received from Tropical Traditions just prior to my move.  I was offered their product to try.  How perfect – Coconut Biscotti! Continue reading “Coconut Macadamia Biscotti and a Product Giveaway!”

No Bake Summer Dessert Peach and Strawberry Cannoli

Welcome to my new home!  Come on in!  It’s been some time since I’ve “opened” my home and welcomed in my friends and family, gathering around the table, sharing laughter, stories, great food and drink.  We’ve got lots of catching up to do; I’m so behind on all that has been happening, baking and cooking in your lives and cucinas!

As for me, I’m settling in, finally. New job, new state, new home, new kitchen and a new chapter of my life! Spicegirl, just what does that mean?  Well, pull up a chair, grab a cannoli and I’ll fill you in. Continue reading “No Bake Summer Dessert Peach and Strawberry Cannoli”

Reflections on Life and Orange Almond Biscotti

Years back when I was raising my kids as a single mom I would often find myself expressing how overwhelmed I was.  Overwhelmed just seemed to be such a negative word which could only make me feel, well, even more overwhelmed!  So I decided instead of saying I was overwhelmed, I’d say that I was overblessed!  It was amazing how a simple change in thought made me feel so much better!

So lately, I’ve been very much overblessed 🙂   The first few months of the year have gone by so quickly; I’ve had one thing after another going on and every weekend has been nonstop busyness.  I know that just like all work and no play can makes Jack a dull boy, all this busyness is making Linda in need of some relaxation! Continue reading “Reflections on Life and Orange Almond Biscotti”

Mardi Gras Kings Cake

You don’t need to live in New Orleans to enjoy the local festivities of Mardi Gras and Fat Tuesday!  There is something so colorful and fun about the New Orleans’ Kings Cake that I have to make it every year just to feel like I’m celebrating right along with the folks in New Orleans. 

Fat Tuesday is right around the corner wrapping up the the Mardi Gras or Carnival Season that is so well celebrated in New Orleans.  The season begins on January 6, also known as “King’s Day” honoring the meeting of the Three Wise Men with the baby Jesus.  The hiding of the baby in the cake was to symbolize the finding of the baby Jesus.

Before my move to Florida, I had considered a relocation to New Orleans.  I made several trips there to look around and during those times, the city grabbed my heart.  The people there seemed to live life to the max, enjoying food,drink and festivities of all the seasons.  It was there that I tasted my first Kings Cake, so sweet and naughty…it was love at first bite! 

There are many versions of the recipe; Jessica at Kitchenbelleicious posted her second version just the other day.  This is made as a brioche dough with a filling of both cream cheese and apples.  There are several steps involved but so well worth it!  Sprinkle on the colored sugars, the more the merrier and enjoy!!

Kings Cake

adapted from the LA Times test kichen

For the Apple filling:

2 tablespoons butter

2 large tart apples, such as Granny Smith, peeled, cored, quartered and sliced crosswise into 1/4-inch slices

1 tablespoon dark brown sugar

1/4 teaspoon cinnamon

1/8 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup toasted pecan pieces

1 tablespoon Apple Jack Brandy

In a large skillet over medium heat, melt the butter. Stir in the apple slices, brown sugar, cinnamon and salt, and cook, stirring frequently, just until the apple starts to soften, 3 to 4 minutes (the slices should still be crisp). Remove from heat and stir in the toasted pecans and Apple Jack Brandy. Remove to a separate container, cool, cover and refrigerate until needed.

For the Cream Cheese filling:

1 (8-ounce) package cream cheese

3/4 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/4 teaspoon salt

5 tablespoons sugar

1/2 beaten egg (save the other half egg to make the egg wash for the cake)

In the bowl of a stand mixer, or in a large bowl using a hand mixer, beat together the cream cheese with the vanilla, salt and sugar. Add the beaten egg to the cream cheese mixture and beat until thoroughly combined. Cover and refrigerate until needed.

For the Brioche:

3/4 cup milk, divided

1 package (2½ teaspoons) active dry yeast

1/3 cup plus 1 teaspoon sugar, divided

2 eggs, plus ½ beaten egg (use the remaining half egg leftover from the cream cheese filling), divided

10 tablespoons (1 stick plus 2 tablespoons) butter, at room temperature

3 1/2 cups (15.75 ounces) bread flour, plus more for dusting

1/2 teaspoon salt

Apple filling

Cream cheese filling

In a small pan, heat one-half cup plus 2 tablespoons of milk over medium heat just until warmed. Remove from heat and pour the milk into a small bowl or measuring cup. Stir in the yeast and 1 teaspoon of sugar, then set aside until the milk is foamy and the yeast is activated, about 10 minutes.

Whisk the 2 eggs in the bowl of a stand mixer using the whisk attachment (or in a large bowl with a hand mixer) until light and fluffy, about 1 minute. Stir in the yeast mixture and remaining one-third cup of sugar until fully incorporated.

If using a stand mixer, switch to the paddle attachment. With the mixer running, add the butter, 1 tablespoon at a time, until incorporated.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour and salt. With the mixer running, add the flour mixture, one spoonful at a time, until fully incorporated.

Remove the dough to a lightly floured surface and knead until it is soft and somewhat silky (it’s a rich dough and won’t be entirely smooth), 5 to  7 minutes. Place the dough in a large, oiled bowl and lightly cover with plastic wrap. Set aside in a warm place until doubled in size, 1 to 1½ hours.

When the dough is doubled, punch it down (it will be very smooth and elastic) and roll it out onto a lightly floured surface into a 10-by-28-inch rectangle. Lightly cut the dough lengthwise to divide the dough into 2 equal halves.

Spoon the apple filling down the length of one side, leaving a 1½-inch border on the top, bottom and sides. Repeat with the cream cheese filling down the other side of the dough, leaving a 1½-inch border on the top, bottom and each side. Lightly brush the edges and center of the dough (along the score) with the egg wash to moisten. Gently and carefully pull the dough over the cream cheese filling, sealing the edge of the dough. Repeat with the apple filling. Press the sealed edges, making sure they are secure (otherwise the fillings could spill out while the cake bakes).

Gently twist the length of the dough to form a braid-like shape. Wrap the dough so it forms an oval wreath and gently press the edges together. Carefully transfer the wreath to a parchment-lined baking sheet.

Cover loosely with plastic wrap. Let the dough rise until almost doubled in volume, 45 minutes to an hour, or loosely cover and refrigerate the dough overnight, removing it from the refrigerator about 1 hour before baking for the dough to come to room temperature.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Make an egg wash using the remaining beaten half egg (from the cream cheese filling) with the remaining 2 tablespoons of milk. Brush the top of the wreath lightly with the egg wash and place in the oven.

Bake the cake until golden brown on top and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean (the toothpick will remain moist if it hits the cream cheese filling, but there should be no crumbs sticking to it), about 30 minutes. Rotate the pan halfway through baking for even coloring.

For the Glaze:

2 cups confectioners sugar

3-4 tablespoons warm milk

1 tablespoon vanilla extract

In a medium bowl combine the confectioners sugar and vanilla extract. Slowly pour in the milk and stir until smooth and slightly thick. Add in the milk slowly, it will become smooth fairly quickly without alot of milk.

Purple, green and yellow colored sugars for decorating

Plastic baby, if desired

Allow the cake to cool before it is frosted. Drizzle the glaze evenly over the cake, then lightly sprinkle over the colored sugars. If using the plastic baby, hide it somewhere in the cake (press the baby in through the bottom of the cake so as not to disturb the top or sides of the cake). Serve the cake warm or at room temperature.  Serves approximately 12-16.

Pick Me Up…Chocolate Raspberry Tiramisu

There are many, many recipes for tiramisu and much written on the history behind this Italian dessert.  It’s definitely one of my favorites; I guess I’m a gal that loves the creamy desserts; tipsy in alcohol, rich in flavor and softly sweetened.  I almost always have the basics for pulling together a tiramisu on hand such as, ladyfingers, mascarpone, whipping cream and an assortment of liquors.  From there it’s whatever your heart desires.  And this time, my heart was tugging at me for chocolate and raspberries.

While I’ve heard of several stories on its origin, my favorite by far is that this dessert with its traditional ingredients including espresso, ladyfingers (sugar) and a cordial was offered to customers at certain bordellos as a “pick me up” to enjoy after so they could go on with their day.  Now whether this tale is true or not doesn’t really matter to me; I enjoy the thought of the pleasure received in a bite of tiramisu.  And who wouldn’t take pleasure in slipping into the kitchen in the middle of the night for a spoonful of this!

Tiramisu is basically a no bake layered dessert.  A few steps can be prepared ahead then layered and refrigerated overnight.  Because this is not baked or any of the layers cooked, the alcohol is definitely prominent and not a dessert for the children.  I like to think of this (as I do its origin) as an adult only dessert.  Perfectly fitted for lovers on Valentine’s Eve.

Chocolate Raspberry Tiramisu

Adapted from Epicurious

1 ¼ cups heavy cream

1 pound mascarpone cheese softened

8 ounces dark chocolate or milk chocolate

2 cups seedless raspberry jam

4 tablespoons Grand Marnier or orange liquor
1/2 cup Chambord

36-40 lady fingers
2 cups fresh raspberries
Confectioner’s sugar for dusting

Shaves of white chocolate, optional

Begin to prepare the layers.  In a chilled bowl, whip the heavy cream until stiff peaks form.  Add in the mascarpone and mix until blended, set aside.  Melt the chocolate in a double boiler or in a bowl set over a pan of simmering water.  Set aside to cool.  Once cool, stir the chocolate into the cream/mascarpone bowl.

In another bowl, mix the raspberry jam with the Grand Marnier, set aside.  Pour the Chambord in a shallow pan.

Using a 10 x 10 pan or 13 x 9 pan or individual serving pieces, layer the bottom of the pan with the ladyfingers, briefly dipping them into the Chambord.  Do not allow them to get soggy, just lightly dipped.  Spread half of the jam over the lady fingers.  Spread the chocolate mascarpone over the jam mixture and repeat the layers finishing with the chocolate mascarpone.  Top with fresh raspberries and cover with plastic wrap.  Refrigerate overnight.   Dust with confectioner’s sugar and white chocolate shavings (optional) when serving.   Makes about 8-10 servings.

February is #chocolatelove month! Please join in on the #chocolatelove fun by linking up any chocolate recipe from the month of Februrary 2012. Don’t forget to link back to this post, so that your readers know to come stop by the #chocolatelove event! The twitter hashtag is #chocolatelove :).

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Indulge me… Chocolate Strawberry Shortcake with Chocolate Brandy Sauce

Indulge; to give free rein, to take unrestrained pleasure in, to yield to the desire….

I like to eat healthy.  I like to work out.  I like to feel good about myself, take care of myself and enjoy moments of pleasure and romance in life.

And, I really don’t think there should be just one special day to devote to romance and love.

But then again, to indulge in food every single day would not do my figure good!  So I do take advantage of this upcoming Valentine’s Day to splurge a bit more in chocolate sweets and creamy dreamy desserts.  The hardest part is deciding which one to choose!!

Florida grown strawberries are hitting the market lately totally pleasing my love for chocolate and strawberries.  I’ve made this chocolate strawberry shortcake for many, many years first baking it for a summer dinner in 1996!  (I really do jot down dates and notes on my recipes!!)

The shortcake is not as light as a traditional shortcake having chunks of chocolate throughout.  I’ve made it as one large shortcake split in half for an awesome presentation and smaller sizes for individual treats.  Of course, Valentine’s Day deserves the heart.

This dessert can be made in steps ahead; the chocolate sauce with brandy can be prepared up to two days ahead although I’ve had it in my frig up to a week dipping strawberries in it.  Oh, and don’t leave out the brandy, it definitely makes the sauce!!   The whipped cream and shortcake can be made earlier in the day or even the day before and the strawberries a few hours ahead as well.  Assembly is quick and easy right before serving.

Chocolate Strawberry Shortcake with Chocolate Brandy Sauce

Adapted by Epicurious, 1996

For the Sauce:

2/3 cup whipping cream

2 tablespoons brown sugar

6 ounces semisweet chocolate, chopped

1 tablespoon brandy

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

For the Shortcake:

2 cups white/wheat flour or unbleached all-purpose flour

5 tablespoons raw sugar  – divided (3 tb in the batter and 2 tb for sprinkling on top)

1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup (1 stick) chilled unsalted butter, cut into small pieces

3 ounces semisweet chocolate, chopped

2/3 cup plus 2 tablespoons buttermilk

For the Filling:

2 pounds strawberries

1 tablespoon of agave or 2-3  tablespoons sugar  (depending on the sweetness of  the strawberries)

1 tablespoon Chambord liquor

1 1/3 cups whipping cream, chilled

1 tablespoon sugar

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

For the Sauce:
Combine cream and sugar in heavy small saucepan. Stir over medium-high heat until mixture comes to boil. Remove from heat. Add chocolate and stir until chocolate melts and sauce is smooth. Mix in brandy and vanilla. (Can be prepared 2 days ahead. Cover and chill.)

For the Shortcake:
Preheat oven to 375 degrees.    Spray or butter individual heart molds or a 9-inch cake pan, dust with flour.   Combine the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt in large bowl; whisk to blend. Add butter and rub in with fingertips until mixture resembles coarse meal. Add chopped chocolate. Gradually add 2/3 cup buttermilk, stirring with fork until dough forms.

Transfer dough to pan; press gently to level top. Brush dough with 2 tablespoons buttermilk and sprinkle with 2 tablespoons sugar. Bake shortcakes until cooked through and golden on top, about 20-25 minutes. Cool shortcakes in pan on rack.

For the Filling:
Slice berries into large bowl, save a few whole for garnish.   Add agave or sugar and Chambord.  Toss to coat; let stand until berries begin to release juices, at least 30 minutes. Combine whipping cream, vanilla and sugar in medium bowl. Whip to soft peaks. Cover and chill cream until ready to serve.

If necessary, rewarm sauce over low heat, stirring often.  Remove shortcakes from pans and slice in half horizontally.  Plate the bottom half and spoon sliced berries with their juices over. Drizzle with some chocolate sauce. Spoon on whipped cream; cover with top shortcake and drop on more whipped cream, drizzle with more chocolate and garnish with a few strawberries.  Serve at once.

February is #chocolatelove month! Please join in on the #chocolatelove fun by linking up any chocolate recipe from the month of Februrary 2012. Don’t forget to link back to this post, so that your readers know to come stop by the #chocolatelove event! The twitter hashtag is #chocolatelove :).

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Citruslove: Caramelized Orange Yogurt

This month I am cohosting the Citruslove bloghop along with a group of fellow bloggers led by Junia at Miss Pensimentos. We will be posting Citrus based recipes for the month with links below to view the other site’s posts as well as adding in your own. Once again I’m not able to have the pics of the other posts visible on my site…another reason I must get my blog to self hosting (smile to Charles)!!

Oranges, lemons, limes, grapefruits – there’s such a wide variety of dishes that can be prepared using citrus it was hard to decide where to begin! And having said that, I decided to start with breakfast. Caramelized oranges may seem a bit sweet for breakfast but the level of sugar can be adjusted to taste (I use very little) and when served with the creamy, tart yogurt and nuts the sweetness blends perfectly.  If desired any dried fruit can be added as well.

Honestly, I can eat this not only for breakfast, but as a snack or a dessert with a drizzle of chocolate! I also prepared a batch of granola to serve alongside the yogurt. Since it makes such a large quantity, my daughter will soon be surprised to receive a granola care package from her mother!!

Caramelized Oranges with Yogurt 

For the caramelized oranges:

Preheat oven to 325 degrees.  Use organic oranges or wash the oranges well.  I used 6 clemintines but any orange will work fine or a mix.  Thinly slice the oranges and layer in a casserole.  Drizzle on agave and/or orange blossom honey.  I also sprinkled on raw sugar that I keep in a jar with vanilla beans.  Cover with foil and roast for about 1 hour, remove the foil and continue to roast until tender and lightly browned about 20-30 minutes longer.  For a crisper taste, broil for a few minutes.  Remove and allow to cool.

For the yogurt: 1 quart plain low fat yogurt, I use Greek yogurt  and even though Greek is thicker than regular I still do drain it.  Drain the yogurt overnight by placing it in a paper towel or cheesecloth lined strainer set over a bowl.  Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.  The next day, place the yogurt into a large bowl and add in the chopped caramelized oranges, 1-2 tablespoons of orange blossom honey, the zest from 1-2 fresh oranges, toasted slivered almonds and thin with the juice of 1 – 2 oranges, depending on your desired consistency.

January is #citruslove month!
Please join in on the #citruslove by linking up any citrus recipe from the month of January 2012.  Don’t forget to link back to this post, so that your readers know to come stop by the #citruslove event! The twitter hastag is #citruslove :).
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Chestnut Caramel Cheesecake

Sugar plums are nice but visions of cold winter nights, a roaring fireplace, mulled wine and roasted chestnuts dance in my head.  Especially during the holidays, chestnuts are a traditional holiday treat I always look forward to.  They become first available in the fall but I normally wait to purchase them until the holidays and through the winter months. Continue reading “Chestnut Caramel Cheesecake”