Fire Sugar Cubes – Not Your Granny’s Sugar Cubes

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The holidays have arrived. Seasonal music floods retail stores and becomes all too common on radio stations; while on TV there is a seemingly unending stream of commercials touting the Christmas theme. As we check Thanksgiving off of our culinary and social list my mind instantly turns towards gift giving. Making a homemade gift is always nice and while cookies are a delicious way to go, I wanted to find that perfect gift to give that is a bit unusual. This concept takes hardly any time to make and will certainly be memorable.

I’ll admit this is far from your typical DIY gift, however the presentation is lovely and 100% unique. When I first heard about this idea from our long time family friend in Italy, Lucia, I was intrigued. In a glass jar, sugar cubes are stacked; a variety of essences can be incorporated to suit your aesthetics and your palate and lastly alcohol is added. Once things have fermented the fun begins!

My Recipe Inspiration and Good Friend - Lucia.

My Recipe Inspiration and Good Friend – Lucia.

While it is not the ideal gift for everyone, and certainly is not child/family friendly, it is an attention getter. When serving remove one sugar cube that has been fermenting in the alcohol and flavors, place it on a plate and light it on fire allowing some of the alcohol to burn off and caramelize the sugar before popping it into your mouth. Repeat for all of your guests!

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Fire Sugar Cubes – Not Your Granny’s Sugar Cubes

Supplies

Low opening glass jar, with a clear lid (preferred)

Ingredients

white sugar cubes

Everclear alcohol (151% Proof)

Flavorings (your choosing):

lemon peel

mint

blackberries

orange peel

whole cloves

cinnamon sticks

anise seeds

grapefruit peel

Directions

In your decorative jar, stack the sugar cubes and then add in preferred flavorings (see suggested combinations below).Pour alcohol over all of the ingredients. Allow to sit for 2+ weeks. When serving remove one cube of sugar and place on a plate. Light a match and set the cube on fire; to extinguish blow out when sugar is slightly caramelized. >Be very careful when using fire and do not leave it unattended or near other flammable materials.< Allow to cool slightly and place in mouth. Enjoy!

Combinations pictured:

– lemon peel (pith removed) and mint

– blackberries

– orange peel and cloves

– cinnamon sticks

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#thanks #giving

Photo Courtesy: IKEA

Photo Courtesy: IKEA

It’s easy to get caught up in the food festivities that surround the holidays. Traditional fare, too much of it, and an opportunity to hang out with ‘those’ relatives that often times create that intense and highly entertaining family drama you’ll eagerly recap at the water cooler at work come Monday. BUT what’s lost in this satirical depiction of Thanksgiving is that there are many families that can barely scrape by enough to provide this celebratory meal. Hunger in the United States is a reality that is not talked about often enough.

I would like to present you with the opportunity to change that reality. To give and provide something for others to eat. It takes but a moment and actually, if someone or a family is in need of a meal, they might very well be in need of more than just a Thanksgiving meal.

Annually I make this plight- I stop the foodie talk in hopes of opening up a very important dialogue. I am a supporter of No Kid Hungry. And as I sit down tomorrow I hope that my donation will allow others to sit around their table with family and friends enjoying some good food. It’s not that I have an abundance of cash lying around, it’s about making choices, and I’ll happily scale back on luxurious coffee drinks for a few weeks and share those funds where I can make a difference- giving to others. The impact $10 = 100 meals. Imagine what I can do in just a few weeks time.

And in light of all of the things I am thankful for today, I raise my glass to all of you – thank you for being my supportive blog family. You make the difference to me by feeding my soul.

Spicy Tahini Squash Bisque

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All I want right now is comfort food, a cozy blanket and a few hours to Netflix binge on some new popular show that I haven’t had time to see. >Okay, and if I am being honest then maybe I’d like to add a swanky cocktail to this fantasy.< It makes sense I suppose, animals hibernate in the winter and store their fat, why should we miss out on all that fun? We are meant to slow down and take it easy. Continue reading ‘Spicy Tahini Squash Bisque’

Warm Chai Coconut Koloa Coffee Rum Mylk

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There is some sort of strange energy that prevails once the end of the year hits. It’s as if we think we have to somehow squeeze everything into those remaining months. It feels like a continuous time crunch with no apparent end in sight. Yet, somehow I am happy to have this experience this year. I’ll take every last bit of it. I don’t want to miss a beat. Last year I could only wish to be going to parties and seeing family and friends, so I am reminded to manage the swells of activity that exist and to find the fun in the little moments. Continue reading ‘Warm Chai Coconut Koloa Coffee Rum Mylk’

Island Guacamole

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This island has a way of enveloping all of your senses; it is a slice of magic on the map. From the wafting sweet floral and fruity fragrances to the contrasting aroma of its salty ocean water Kaua’i captured my heart from the first moment I laid eyes on it some eight years ago. I wish I could claim that I lived here – we visit as often as is possible, as soon as we save up enough for our airplane tickets, we return with smiles on our faces.

When my Grandparents first married in 1937 they took a cruise from San Francisco to Honolulu. And that is where it all begins. They fell in love with the island of Oahu and purchased a small one-bedroom apartment in Honolulu located four blocks from Waikiki beach. Up until my Grandfather retired (at the young age of 50) they traveled to Hawaii once a year, then he stepped up their visits to twice a year for months at a time. By the time I arrive onto the scene, it was the perfect place to beach with a toddler. The toddler, AKA me, grew and then with both parents working full time it was the perfect place to send me for the summer. At the time I thought it was nice – but it also felt very far away (a phone call every 5 days home to say ‘hello’ and no computers or Internet to keep me tethered to my friends). My grandparents kept me very busy and they were passionate about living the local life, so with our bus passes in hand we tromped to farmer’s markets, the library, the hula shows, the Dole Pineapple factory, ate copious amounts of shave ice, visited a sugar cane farm, snorkeled, learned to hula and surf and without fail made two daily trips to the beach! As I grew older I could even bring a friend with me to share in the fun. And well the stories once I hit college and spent times on the island unsupervised with friends are still locked in the vault. Despite my conservative high school years things went a bit off kilter (comparatively speaking) later. That’s a whole ‘nother story for another day.

Anyways, you’ve probably had enough of memory lane. I can tell you that my trips here now with my family are very similar to those trips I took with my grandparents – Ginny and Elios- back in the day, we eat and shop local which creates a fun challenge on the recipe front; using available items to make something memorable. And without fail, keeping things simple is best.

With a few locals having gifted us avocados the stage was set for me to make some guacamole. Earlier in the week I had purchased an insane amount of star fruit, hence the concept for Island Guacamole took shape. I wanted to use what I had on hand, I wanted to keep things simple, and I wanted to make it different than our usual guacamole. As you know if you follow my blog, I do like to make no-recipe recipes; and here is the one I whipped up for the family on our last night. I actually made it twice because it was devoured so quickly that I needed a few more bites for myself. Maybe I should name it ‘Disappearing Island Guacamole’?

The buttery smooth avocado receives a kick of texture from the finely chopped, slightly sweet star fruit. Lemon and fresh ground chili paste give the guacamole a hint of color, tang and spice that will leave you smacking your lips.

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Island Guacamole

Ingredients

1 very large avocado or 2-3 regular sized avocados (see below on how to safely cut an avocado)**

1 large lemon

1 TBS chili paste, (preferred brand: Sambal Oelek)

1 small ripe star fruit, minced

1 small ripe star fruit, sliced ¼-inch thick for decoration

salt and pepper to taste

tortilla or taro chips

Directions

In a medium bowl, mash avocados with a fork until desired consistency. Then add in remaining ingredients, except for sliced star fruit, which is for decoration, and chips which will be used for serving. Combine ingredients well and taste to adjust seasoning of chili sauce, salt and pepper. Decorate with star fruit slices and serve with chips.

** Notes: To safely cut your avocado grip the avocado gently on one side with one hand. With a large, sharp knife in the other hand, cut the avocado lengthwise around the seed. Open the two halves to expose the pit. Make another cut, lengthwise on the avocado half that has the pit, cutting around the pit, exposing it so that it is easier to remove. A spoon can also be used to scoop out the pit. Never use a small sharp knife – it is not worth the risk of hurting yourself – trust me!

At this point, you can either scoop out the avocado flesh with a spoon or slice the avocado into segments. Gently make cuts in the avocado flesh in a cross-hatch pattern, careful not to break through the avocado peel. Scoop out to remove.

Unusual Pumpkin Recipes & Reflections

Spoiler alert: this is not really a food post, it is a reflection on life and relationships. I know, just when you thought I might throw another pumpkin something your way I head the other direction.

Since I am reflecting, let’s compromise and I’ll share my recipe reflections on some of my favorite, not so usual, pumpkin recipes:

Cheesy Pumpkin Kale Lasagna

Quinoa Pumpkin Risotto

Pumpkin Ginger Semi-Freddo Ice Cream

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Continue reading ‘Unusual Pumpkin Recipes & Reflections’

Pumpkin Chestnut Cornbread

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I really have no excuses. I tried to come up with one, however there is just no point. In the vein of transparency I will stick to the truth. Sometimes, despite how very well I am doing health wise, day-to-day life becomes all too consuming and I can’t pull out from under it. For me writing and recipe development is like an old friend. It is what nourishes my soul and satisfies my creativity; yet in the throws of a busy life filled with activities and obligations things can really become borderline >if not completely< overwhelming. So here I am, hat in hand, asking you to accept that I am doing the best I can to stay connected to you. Continue reading ‘Pumpkin Chestnut Cornbread’

Mt. Shasta Watermelon Refresher

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I originally posted this recipe last year. It is one of my daughter’s favorites, as she will often ask me to make this ‘vacation drink in a bowl’ nearly every week during the summer.

When I think of watermelon I can’t help but think of her and about the Mt. Shasta Blackberry Festival. For the last 8 years we have attended the Blackberry Festival, which always falls on Labor Day weekend. This same weekend also happens to be my son’s birthday weekend. >no jokes please, yes I was in labor on labor day weekend!< This festival has become an annual tradition as it offered good ‘ole fashioned fun – potato sack races, water balloon tosses, the three legged race AND the coveted watermelon eating contest. The ambiance is perfect — a park and large grassy field serve as a backdrop for Frisbee playing, fancy hoola-hooping and tag, while local bands up on stage entertain the hundreds of on-lookers. Rotary club members sell commemorative t-shirts, blackberry pies, blackberry ale and some all American fare.

Without a doubt the Blackberry Festival has been a Labor Day Weekend staple for our family, however this year the one glaring activity missing was the one the one competition that we talk about all year long…the watermelon eating contest. Over the years, my kids have perfected their technique. My daughter, the eldest of my two children, developed the winning strategy, which she then shared only with one other person, her younger brother. Since they didn’t compete against one another she wanted to make sure he had the tools required to win his gender/age division. Needless to say, these two ringers have taken first place for their gender/age for the past 6 years.

This past weekend, when we realized the contest wasn’t going to happen, we offered to host our own mini-event at home post-festival, but the response was underwhelming. They didn’t really want to compete against one another, the fun was the challenge of taking on strangers to see if there was anything new to learn.

In tribute to one of our favorite days of the year, I am sharing this recipe for my Watermelon Refesher, in hopes that we can inspire our friends at the Rotary Club to bring back the contest next year!

This beautiful blend of juices evoke the taste of those long nostalgic summertime days. Happiness in bowl.

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Mt. Shasta Watermelon Refresher

Ingredients

1 round small seedless watermelon (4 cups needed)

3 limes; 2 juiced, 1 for garnish

1/3 cup light coconut milk

½ cup coconut water

dash of salt

1 TBS maple syrup (optional)

chocolate shavings (optional)

vodka, gin or tequila (optional)

Directions

Slice watermelon in half and using a spoon scoop out meat.

Note: To be able to use watermelon rind as the bowl to serve your watermelon drink, it is best not to remove melon to far down in your ‘bowl’ and to make the scoops you remove look aesthetically pleasing. Leaving a small pink ¼-inch boarder of watermelon around the rim is recommended.

Arrange on a parchment-lined backing sheet or in the largest container you can fit in the freezer. If layering watermelon, separate layers with parchment paper. Freeze for approximately 4 hours.

Drain off any excess juices collected at the bottom of the watermelon bowl and set aside. Cover the watermelon halves with parchment paper and refrigerate until ready to use. Chilled bowls are the best because once the juice has been devoured, there is melon to eat! Remaining juice can be used to supplement coconut water or just enjoyed on its own.

Remove watermelon from freezer and add to a blender along with lime juice, coconut milk, coconut water, salt and maple syrup (if using). Blend on low until smooth and creamy. If the mixture has trouble blending, add a scant amount of coconut water or alcohol; too much liquid will make the consistency too thin. If making a cocktail adding and blending ice into the mix is a nice touch.

Taste the mixture before serving and adjust as needed:

-Creaminess = more coconut milk

-Brightness = more lime

-Sweetness = more maple syrup

Serve in empty watermelon rinds or chilled serving glasses. Garnish with a wedge of lime and a sprinkle of chocolate shavings.

Makes 2 large portions. Leftovers can be put in popsicle molds and frozen minus the lime garnish.

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Matcha Berry Breakfast Bowl

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Life just feels rushed. There is so little time to reflect and focus on the finer points of day to day life as I find myself rushing from place to place. Given that reality, I’ve gone into survival mode on the food front. I refuse to compromise quality and creativity, so I am modifying what I create given available pantry and refrigerator ingredients to satisfy my crazy savory palate. I realize that this concoction may not be for everyone, but I also know that many of you really enjoy diving into new flavors so I am going to take a gamble.

I cannot quite pinpoint when my palate took a turn towards the savory spectrum of flavors. I’ve thought about it over and over again and come up with a zilch. I can only suppose that when my mom was diagnosed with diabetes several years ago that my tastebud transformation began to take hold in its infancy. Despite the fact that she has never been a big sweets eater, knowing that she was suddenly not supposed to have her favorite desserts seemed to make her crave them all the more. I compare it to when I’ve “attempted” to diet in the past. The thought of the word diet makes me suddenly want to eat all of the caloric comfort foods I can find. I digress…back to this savory breakfast post.

What you can expect to taste with this bowl of yum? It’s an explosion of textures and flavors. The creamy yogurt is a blank slate for the rest of the flavors that are combined in this recipe. The matcha and nutritional yeast lend a slant of saltiness, which is counter acted by the sweet plump fresh berries and the tart dried berries. Nuts provide an added crunch, while the mango chutney is both sweet and spicy. For the finishing touches, the maple syrup drizzle seals the deal with a hint of sweetness.

This recipe, yet another one of my go-with-the flow recipes, takes all of six minutes to assemble.

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Matcha Berry Breakfast Bowl

Ingredients

1 cup Greek yogurt

1 handful blackberries or blueberries

1 TBS dried goji berries

1 TBS sliced almonds or salted marcona almonds

1/8 tsp nutritional yeast (optional)

1/4 tsp matcha powder

1 TBS hot mango chutney

1/2-1 tsp maple syrup

Directions

Place yogurt in a bowl and then sprinkle with matcha powder, nuts and berries. Next add nutritional yeast, if using. Top with mango chutney and drizzle with maple syrup.

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Lemoncello Peach Salad

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Missed me? I’ve missed you!

So much has transpired that I hardly know where to start. The quick snapshot looks like this…epic vacation, followed by catching up at work (yes, I have a ‘real job’ outside of recipe development) and THEN my website becomes infected with malware and my creative writing comes to a screeching halt. Continue reading ‘Lemoncello Peach Salad’