Vanilla Bean Ice Cream

With last Sunday's dinner in the rearview mirror, I am ready to gear up for this coming Sunday.  With the dessert I will be serving, I am in need of some ice cream.  I certainly wanted to go the homemade route.  And with the way this batch turned out, I am glad I did!   

Vanilla ice cream is the blank canvas of the frozen dessert world.  I think it is important for any adventurous cook to have a quality, go-to homemade version.  It is the perfect accompaniment to just about any dessert and can be dressed up in a variety of ways, like with a drizzle of chocolate syrup for a simple example.  As I have discussed before, I use a little liqueur or alcohol in the frozen base of most of my ice creams and sorbets to keep them from freezing rock hard.  This recipe takes this step one step further.  Light corn syrup is cooked with the custard.  The combination of the vodka (vanilla flavor is nice if you have on hand☺) and the corn syrup makes for the ultimate creamy ice cream texture.  


Low Country Boil

For for the final installment of this past Sunday dinner menu, I give you the main event.  I grew up eating a variety of seafood boils.  Shrimp in the Carolinas and crawfish in Louisiana.  There isn't one that is alike in every way, but they are all mighty tasty.  I can't get my hands on live crawfish in this neck of the woods, but I can find some decent shrimp (wish they had heads on), other shellfish, and of course, that Midwest corn.

I reckon many of you will be getting together with family, friends and neighbors this weekend and next week to celebrate the Fourth of July.  Hamburgers, hotdogs, and other grilled items are great standards, but why not change it up?  Throw a big ole pot on the stove or on a burner in the backyard and have a go at this grab, peel and eat meal.  

Although it is a boil, I prefer to boil just the potatoes and sausage while simply steaming the other components.  This intensifies the flavor of the broth, a.k.a. pot likker, which becomes a pool of flavor goodness to drag those hushpuppies through☺.  You can change the amount of any of the foods or even change some of the ingredients to suit your taste.  Add a lobster, a crab or two, or throw in some more veggies--- just remember to add them according to cooking times.  Overdone seafood and raw potatoes are not good eatin'.  Serve with your favorite cocktail sauce and/or garlic butter and dig in!

Oh, and what's up with the Sunday dinner tablecloth??  I like to maintain the tradition of serving it on newspaper, but not directly on it.  As I said before, I like to serve the pot likker as well.  The newspaper still makes for easy clean-up after this grab, dip, peel and eat meal.



Continuing with the Sunday dinner recipes... These little golden balls are basically a good excuse to eat fried corn bread. They are a great side/bread to have on the table when serving seafood and/or barbecue.  Dip them in a hot sauce or drag 'em through a pot likker. They are sweet and tender on the inside with a mild onion flavor while the outside is golden and crunchy.  They fry up in no time and can be kept in a warm oven until ready to serve.

Legend has it that when fishermen were frying up the day's catch, they would throw a batch of these in the fryer, cook them up, then throw them at the barking dogs and yell "Hush puppies!"  I also have dogs hovering around the table, but I don't throw these at those two beggars (o.k...guilty, maybe one or two).  I serve them to my family (along with a cold beer for the adults).  They're delicious--and pretty good at hushing people that might need it, too☺.


Homemade Light "Boursin" Garlic and Herb Cheese

When I post my Sunday dinner menus, I feature one recipe with the promise to share the other recipes in the future.  But in some cases, I share the remaining menu recipes immediately following for two reasons-- 1. It might be some time before I make the items on the menu again and 2. A heavy amount of reader requests via comment or e-mail.  The latter was the case this time.

I am sure many of you are familiar with that tasty garlic and herb cheese in the market.  Me...big fan.  You should also know that when I have an opportunity to make a store bought good from scratch, I go for it.  The only problem with that is that it is really hard to go back.  There is just no comparison in taste and texture when it is homemade--as is the case with this cheese.  Most of you probably already have the ingredients on hand and the spread comes together in a flash.  Make it ahead of time (bonus) for the flavors to meld, then spread it on baguettes, crackers, crudites, or use it in your favorite recipe, like this frittata.  This Sunday I piped rosettes of this cheese onto cucumber rounds for a tasty appetizer.  If you do serve it this way, make sure you pat the cut surface of the cucumber dry with a paper towel in order for the cheese to stay put.  Set them out on a tray for your guests and watch them disappear.


Sunday Dinner

Homemade Light "Boursin" Garlic and Herb Cheese on Cucumber Rounds
Black Eyed Pea Dip

Cabbage Slaw with Red Wine Vinaigrette
Hush Puppies
Garlic Butter and Cocktail Sauce

Neapolitan Bundt Cake

Looking for a cake to that is fun to make, fun to cut into, feeds a crowd, and tastes great? I knew I wanted a slice of cake after dinner tonight, but I couldn't decide on what flavor to bring to the table.  A piece of this colorful cake oughta satisfy the sweet tooth.

This is essentially a baked version of Neapolitan ice cream.  The vanilla batter is divided into three bowls.  One is flavored with chocolate syrup and cocoa powder, another is flavored with strawberry jam while the color is enhanced with red food coloring, and the last bowl is left plain.  The batters are layered one on top of the other into a prepared Bundt pan.  As the cake bakes, the layers swirl on their own, giving each slice a unique look.

Once cooled, the cake is brushed with more strawberry jam before a velvety chocolate glaze is drizzled on the top and sides of the cake to make it a real show stopper.


Tangy Apple-Cabbage Slaw with Blue Cheese

We headed to my sister's house a few weeks back for an indoor bbq to celebrate my niece's birthday.  She served up a tasty meal.  The part of the meal that really had me going back for more was this salad.  One bite and I knew exactly what I was going to serve this with once I added a key adaptation. 

Y'all might know that I am a big fan of the sweet and savory combo.  This salad certainly checks both of those boxes.  Sweet apples and a sweet, tangy dressing are tossed with savory cabbage and green onions.  I add a bit of flat-leaf parsley for freshness.  But what really sealed the deal on this combination of flavors was the addition of crumbled blue cheese.  It ties it all together even for those who are not big blue cheese fans.  This slaw would certainly be enjoyed with just about any food on the table, but it really is a winning side to the Hickory Smoked Beef Brisket that we enjoyed on Sunday.


Hickory Smoked Beef Brisket

Have you ever wanted to start a grill in the morning?  Do you ever think or say "Yeah, I find the idea of devoting most of a day to tending to hickory logs and smelling like smoke appealing"?  Smoking your own beef brisket is not a choice.  It is a lifestyle, at least for a day.  Oh, but is it ever rewarding.  Having a man in your life who likes to tend fire and have a few beers in the sun helps, too☺.  The resulting meat is why God created fire, meat, and our taste buds.  Seriously, look at that smoke ring!

If you are still reading, chances are that you might want to attempt this sort of undertaking.  Even if you are not sure that you are ready or willing to take on the task, you can read on for the rub and/or sauce recipes.  The sauce is great on a burger or chicken, so get on with your bad self and make your own sauce.  I'm telling you-- making your own sauce has its own magic.   


Strawberry Chicken Salad with Tomato-Balsamic Vinaigrette

As much as I love a good steaka juicy burger, or a couple of slices of smoked beef brisket (recipe coming up next☺), it is nice to ease off and make a meal out of a salad.  But this isn't just any plate of rabbit food with a drizzle of dressing.  This is a summer salad at its finest.

Ripe, juicy strawberries are arranged with sliced avocado, red onion, candied pecans, feta, and sliced grilled chicken that is marinated in a tomato-balsamic vinaigrette that absolutely explodes with flavor.  You might even find yourself dipping a piece of bread into it as it is passed around the table.  Yeah, it's that good.

The original recipe called for plain grilled chicken breast (or pulled meat from a rotisserie chicken as a time saver), but I like to marinate the chicken in a little bit of the vinaigrette before grilling it.  The grill adds a nice smoky flavor that pairs well with the tomato-balsamic flavor.  I also add sliced avocado to the salad because... I like it.  The recipe called for candied walnuts, but I prefer the taste of pecans in this salad.  You'll note when reading the recipe that it serves 4-8.  If you have a hefty appetite and can polish off a whole chicken breast in a salad, then stick with the 4 servings, but since I serve this with some warm crusty bread and butter, our bellies get full.  In fact, we like to make sure we have leftovers to stuff in whole wheat pitas or wrap in flour tortillas for lunch the next day.


Sunday Dinner

Homemade Refrigerator Pickles

Strawberry Cream Cheese Crumble Tart

Happy Father's Day to all the dads out there.  The dad in this house suggested most of this menu, including the dessert.  This tart is a great way to round out a satisfying meal on a beautiful June day.  It has the tangy flavor of cream cheese and the sweetness of ripe strawberries right in the middle of their season.  The crumb layer offers a texture that is just the right amount of sweet crunch to compliment the filling.  The real problem I have is keeping the man of the day from gorging too much on the brisket so he can truly enjoy dessert☺.

Sunday Dinner one year ago


Grilled Flank Steak with Chimichurri Sauce

Many of you may be firing up the grill this weekend to cook Dad a nice meal.  I've got a recipe right here that will put a different spin on his beloved steak.  You know--something a little different than the standard ol' T-Bone.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with Chimichurri, it is a sauce originally from Argentina.  It can be green or red and there are countless variations of both.  The green sauce is composed of oil, lemon or vinegar (or in this case both), garlic, and herbs (and this is where the variations come in to play).  Parsley, cilantro, mint, and oregano are all suitable herbs when making a green chimichurri, but I prefer the combination of flavors from the parsley and cilantro.  To add more flavor to the meat, I rub in a sweet and savory spice mixture that compliments the sauce well.  


Sparkling Strawberry Lemonade

What would Summer look like if it could be transformed into a liquid and poured into a glass? After I made and began to photograph this sparkling strawberry lemonade, I began to believe that I had a nominee for the "Summer in a Glass" award that exists only in my head ☺.  At least in the "June" category, anyway.

That is the dreamy side of this beverage.  The fact of the matter is that this drink tastes really good.  The kids will love it poured over ice.  The adults will love it mixed with vodka while appreciating a painted sky summer sunset.  Mix it up and drink in the season.      

*Important Note*---If not serving to a crowd, keep the lemon syrup-strawberry mixture and the sparkling water separate until ready to drink so as not to lose desired fizziness.  


Shrimp and Spanish Chorizo Bites

We have enjoyed this appetizer twice in the last couple of weeks and rather than saving it for a future Sunday dinner feature, I wanted to share it before this weekend when many of us will be gathering with family to honor the dads and/or grads in our life.

While this appetizer/tapas is very simple to put together, the flavors are anything but.  Smoky, savory, a little sweet...there really is a lot of taste to process once you take a bite.  Aside from the great flavor, there is the attractive quality of it being fun, delicious food on a stick.  Who doesn't like that?  Grab a stick with one hand, fill the other with a glass of white wine and you're good to go!  


Mini Raspberry Swirl Cheesecakes

Normally I post a Sunday dinner menu for the weekend, but this Sunday I will not be able to spend a normal amount of time in my kitchen.  We are having a little celebration with family today and I will be bringing this sweet treat to share.  

I brought these to a neighborhood graduation party a few weeks ago and I made several batches of them.  Due to the amount I needed to make, I wanted to make the recipe simpler.  I took a cue from a Cook's Country recipe and used a store bought shortbread cookie in lieu of the original graham cracker crust.  I have to say, I liked this version better than the graham cracker.  The shortbread flavor paired really well with the raspberry flavor.  The graham cracker flavor can sometimes overpower the overall flavor profile of a cheesecake.  But that is just my opinion. What was the opinion of the other guests?  Let's just say that not a single cheesecake was left.  I even had a neighbor who claims he doesn't care for cheesecake polish off three of them.  (Don't worry Ron, your secret is safe with me☺).

Below are a few step-by-steps to help you with the baking process.

Line your muffin tins with 32 cupcake liners and place one shortbread cookie in the bottom of each cup.  I know 32 is an odd number for a recipe, but just ask your neighbor to borrow an extra muffin tin if you need one.

Once the raspberry mixture and cream cheese mixture are made, spoon three tablespoons of the cream cheese mixture into each cup.  Then dot 1/2 teaspoon (total for each cheesecake) of the raspberry mixture in several dots on top of the cheesecake filling.

Using a toothpick or skewer, swirl the raspberry mixture through the cheesecake filling to create a marbled effect.

Bake at 325° F for 22 minutes, or until the filling is just set.  The cheesecakes will looked puffed, but they will sink slightly once cooled.

Mini Raspberry Swirl Cheesecakes
makes 32

For the Crust
32 Keebler Simply Sandies

For the Raspberry Coulis
6 ounces fresh Raspberries
2-4 Tablespoons granulated sugar, depending on the sweetness of the berries
1 teaspoon freshly squeezed lemon juice

For the Filling
2 pounds cream cheese, at room temperature
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
1/8 teaspoon kosher salt
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
4 extra large eggs, at room temperature

Preheat the oven to 325° F.  Line standard size muffin tins with paper liners and place one cookie in the bottom of each cup; set aside.

In the bowl of a food processor, puree the raspberries, 2 tablespoons of sugar, and lemon juice until completely smooth.  Strain the mixture through a fine-mesh sieve set over a bowl.  Taste for sweetness, adding more sugar if necessary.  Discard the seeds and set the coulis aside.

In a clean bowl of a food processor, puree the cream cheese, sugar, salt, vanilla, and eggs until completely smooth.  Spoon three tablespoons of the cream cheese mixture into each cupcake liner on top of the cookie.  Dot a 1/2 teaspoon of raspberry coulis (total) in a few dots over the cheesecake filling.  Use a toothpick or wooden skewer to lightly swirl the raspberry coulis to create a marbled effect.

Bake the cheesecakes until the filling is set, about 22 minutes, rotating the pans halfway through baking.  Transfer to a wire rack and cool to room temperature.  Carefully remove the cheesecakes and transfer to a rimmed baking sheet.  Refrigerate for at least 4 hours before serving.  Enjoy!

Source: Adapted from Cupcakes by Martha Stewart


Grilled Salmon and Red Onion with Strawberry Salsa

If you have been following my little space in the world, there are two things that you already know--  1. I enjoy a sweet and savory combo and 2. I am always trying to find a way to get my family to eat fresh salmon.  With berry season in full swing, why not combine the two for a delicious dinner we would all enjoy?

The salsa is a combination of diced strawberries and kiwi (both of which my whole family loves).  I added a bit of cucumber for crunch and some jalapeno for a mild heat.  Cilantro and lime juice add seasoning and fresh flavor.  Since it is a "salsa" I wanted to add some onion (we love our onions too), but I didn't want to overpower the sweetness of the salsa.  Thinking cap, Nicole... it will come to me, but let's move on with the salmon. 

Knowing that strawberries and balsamic vinegar are an excellent combo, I decided to glaze the salmon with a balsamic vinegar and honey mixture to add both deep and sweet flavors.  Now all I needed was a little something to balance the sweetness.  Lightbulb!  Grill some sliced red onions and use them as a bed for the salmon and salsa.  This added a lovely savory and smoky element that paired nicely with the strawberries and salmon. 

But I didn't stop there.  I had some Queso Fresco in the refrigerator that needed a home.  It found one on top of the whole dish.  It made it pretty and perfectly scrumptious.  This was a hands down (or should I say thumbs up) a winner-winner salmon dinner!

P.S. In case you are new to the blog, check out this grill tip for keeping fish from sticking to the grill.


Cinnamon Swirl Bread

I love a good slice of homemade white bread slathered with butter, sprinkled with cinnamon sugar and broiled until golden and toasty, but this week I was in the mood to try for something more.  That called for a loaf of classic, old fashioned cinnamon swirl bread.  If you are a fan or reader of Cook's Illustrated, you will know that they recently published a new method for cinnamon swirl bread that helps eliminate those gaps between the dough and the swirl.  It is a good recipe based on a traditional Russian bread, but it is a bit more involved and well... I think it is important that we all have a recipe for the classic swirl in our recipe cache.

For this bread, I use my standard white bread recipe and enrich it with egg, more butter, and more sugar.  With these additions, I must reduce the amount of water to prevent the dough from being too slack.  For the filling, I use a combination of confectioners' sugar, brown sugar and ground cinnamon.  I use lots of ground cinnamon because, after all, this is cinnamon swirl bread. 

Now, about those annoying gaps-- they are usually caused by the fact that the cinnamon sugar has no way to cling to the dough itself.  To help eliminate that, I use a milk and vanilla extract mixture.   I brush half of the mixture on the dough before I sprinkle it with the cinnamon sugar.  Then as I roll the dough, I brush the remaining half of the mixture on the bottom side of the roll.  That way the cinnamon sugar sticks to both sides.

The hardest part about making this bread is waiting.  Waiting for it to cool. And this, my friends, is where I break that cardinal rule of baking bread.  You know, the one that says to let the bread cool completely on a wire rack before slicing? Throw that one out the window this time and allow the bread to cool until it is just warm.  Then cut a slice (or two☺) and give it a good pat of butter that will immediately begin to melt.  Buttery, doughy, cinnamony (that's not a word) goodness I tell ya!  Once you have had your fill of the warm stuff, toast a piece the next day and schmear it with a little cream cheese frosting.  Naughty, but sooo very nice.


Sunday Dinner

Grand Aïoli with Haricots Verts and Fingerling Potatoes

French Lentils
Simple Salad 

Lemon Cloud Tart with Rhubarb Compote

For the first Sunday dinner in June, I figured one more spring dessert was in order.  This tart utilizes some of the late spring bounty of rhubarb.  As the name suggests, the filling is light in texture.  Ah, but there is a lot of flavor floating around in this dreamy, creamy sea of lemon and cream.

I use my favorite tart crust recipe and I use the Meyer lemon curd recipe, but swap out the Meyer lemons for regular tart lemons. The rhubarb compote pairs perfectly with the lemon and cream to deliver a dessert that will have you floating on.... alright, it's just really good. 


Raspberry Sherbet

Contrary to the conditions outside right now, it was a hot one this past Sunday and the last thing I wanted to do was to turn on the oven.  Wanting to make sure our meal ended on a sweet note, I looked to my ice cream maker for this dreamy sherbet.

FAQ-- What's the difference between a sherbet and sorbet?  You'll probably get a few responses, but in my book a sherbet is made with milk or some other type of dairy, like the buttermilk in my Peach Cobbler Sherbet.  A sorbet, on the other hand, is made without any milks or cream.  Both are easy to prepare because very little to no cooking is required.  In fact, since the ingredients I used were already cold, I was able to churn it immediately in my ice cream maker, unlike most ice creams where the custard base needs to be cooked and cooled before churning.

If you are a regular reader, you may know that I like to use a little trick in most homemade frozen dessert recipes.  A little liqueur added in the mixture keeps it from freezing rock hard.  It can be omitted without too much sacrifice on flavor.  

*P.S.-- Drink remaining liqueur and have a slurred debate with a fellow imbiber on the correct pronunciation of the word sherbet ☺.