Sunday, December 11, 2011

It's beginning to feel a lot like Christmas...

Usually I put at least a couple recipes in my blog, but today I just wanted to wax poetic (well, maybe not poetic and it may be more of a wane than a wax) about decorating for Christmas.

My mother loved Christmas and all that it entailed. She loved the hustle, bustle and general craziness. The house was always beautifully decorated with giant red velvet bows and lots and lots of fresh evergreen. Over the mantle there was always a giant wreath with a giant bow. From the wreath hung three angels which hovered over the Creche that she brought home with her from the Holy Land. Each angel was a little different and Mary and Joseph were beautifully carved. I used to take the baby Jesus out and put him in my doll house. Hoping not to get caught messing with the Creche.

Our Christmas tree was always pretty huge and had lots of very pretty twinkling white lights. The ornaments were collected over years, some of theme were delicate and beautiful and others were clunky and childlike, but each had a special memory for someone in my family. This fact is what made our tree so beautiful to me. There were always glass icicles and snowflakes on the tree. These sparkled in the evening when we would only have fire light and the tree lights on.

The decorations continued into the dining room. The chandelier was covered in evergreen rope and silver holy balls were hung from it with velvet ribbon. The silver candelabra were filled with cherry red candles and lit every evening, or at least that is what I remember. They were probably only lit for dinner Christmas day.

The front doors, which were painted a dark 'Charleston' green, had giant wreaths with giant red bows hung on them. Sometimes there was greenery framing the front windows as well as wreaths there. And there were always a ton of poinsettias.

I had my very own special tree. It was the only fake one in the house, but it was all mine and I loved it. It was about 2 feet tall and cemented into a red and white gingham flower pot. It had multi-colored lights strung on it--the only multi-colored lights in the house--and Charlie Brown Peanuts character ornaments. When my mother first made it for me I felt so special, my very own Christmas tree. As I got older, it reminded me of being a child and how the season was full of magic. I dearly wish I knew where those ornaments were now, I'd love to make a new Charlie Brown tree.

One of my mothers favorite Christmas traditions was the giving of gifts. She was the best wrapper of presents ever. They were always so very beautiful. Giant bows made from ribbon she drove all the way to Savannah to purchase, they were almost as big as the boxes or bigger sometimes. For many years she gave my cousins and I a silver snowflake each Christmas. These were worked into our yearly decorations by being hung from the chandelier or from the tree. These snowflakes, with the addition of Christmas Crosses given to me by my Aunt Mary, are the core of my holiday decorations.

I haven't had a tree in a long time, but I do decorate for Christmas. I just do so a little less traditionally than my mother did, but with no less flair. If I do say so myself! I hang the Holly Balls from the chandelier, and I hang the snowflakes from the ceiling. Some years I decorate with fresh greens, some years I just use the fake. But I always have them somewhere, along with some candy canes which were always a part of my mothers decorations.

Christmas is a time for family and traditions. If you have not started traditions of your own, then this year is the time to do so. I have my own traditions and they involve surrounding myself with friends and family as much as possible and a whole lot of baking and crafting. The baking blog will come later...

Merry Christmas Everyone!

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Brownies, Bars and Birthdays

September is birthday month for me and quite a few of my friends. One friend in particular really likes my Espresso Blondies (well I guess they are actually Silver Palate Espresso Blondies, but, I made them, so they are mine, humph), so when trying to think of something nice to do for him, I decided to bake him a batch of these delicious blondies. Brownie One: Espresso Blondies.
But why stop there?

I have had a package of goat cheese in my refrigerator for a week or two now just waiting for the right inspiration, and I found it. You know that chef guy Bobby Flay and his TV show 'Throw Down with Bobby Flay'? Well a while ago he threw down with the Vermont Brownie Company, and they won. Although I did not see the show, when I was looking for recipes that involved chocolate and goat cheese I ran across a recipe that referenced that episode, so I checked it out. Nice recipe. Beat Bobby's peanut butter chocolate brownies, so the recipe couldn't be that bad. But while looking at that recipe I ran across another blog for Luna Cafe and she made Chocolate Lemon Goat Cheese Caramel Brownies. Sounds like a whole lot going on, but it also sounded intriguing, so that's the one I chose. Of course I made some minor changes to it, leaving out the lemon and using my favorite brownie recipe from Capriel's Desserts. Brownie Two: Super Fudgey Burnt Caramel Goat Cheese Brownies.

The brownies just before I put them in the oven.

To make these brownies start with your favorite gooey brownie recipe. Make a basic caramel sauce. And treat the goat cheese as you would cream cheese for a basic cream cheese brownie recipe. I used half goat and half cream cheese so it has the tang of goat cheese and the smooth creaminess of the cream cheese.

For the recipe that inspired these brownies go to the Luna Cafe website, and find the recipe for lemon chevre burnt caramel brownies.

Process: in a 9x13 inch pan place a piece of parchment paper with edges hanging over like you see in the above picture. Spread about 2/3rds of the batter in the bottom of the pan.  Spoon the caramel over the brownie mix making sure there is caramel over all the pan. Spoon the goat cheese mixture over the caramel and spread the remaining brownie mix over all. Using a knife make the swirl pattern in the brownie mix. Bake at 350 until brownies are set. Should take about 20-30 minutes. Don't let them over bake or the goat cheese mixture will get grainy and dried out.

The finished product. If only there was a big glass of milk available....

My other favorite brownies are the Silver Palate Espresso Blondies. Another recipe you can find on line, go to and type in Espresso Blondies. The original Silver Palate cookbook was one of my very first cookbooks and is one that I have continued to give my friends throughout the years. I sometimes change things up a bit and use white chocolate, but no matter what you do with them, they are amazing.

Just out of the oven and cooling down a bit so that I can cut them and eat them all up, well, except for the ones that I gave to my friend Chris for his birthday.

Again, need a glass of milk.

I hope you all decide to check out these great recipes on other peoples sites. I know I enjoy looking through the Internet for fun food ideas. I was recently introduced to another great website, This site puts together pictures from all sorts of food blogs in one spot so it is easy to check out what lots of people are doing all in one place. I am now a huge fan of Pioneer Woman.

Next up, well I have no idea where I will be inspired next, so stay tuned.

It's Braising Season

One of my favorite cooking seasons is fall. It's the beginning of the braising season and I love it. Braised meat is simple...large chunk of beef/pork, a delicious 'liqour,' some aromatics and a vegetable or two, throw them all in a heavy bottom pot with a well fitted lid or drop it in your crock pot, turn on the heat and go about your day. Depending on the size of the chunk of beef, you should have a delicious meal all ready to eat in 8-10 hours. Some cuts of meat require a little more preparation, and possibly some exotic ingredients, but a pot roast is relatively cheap and easy to get from prep to table.

My pot roast has been refined over the years and now includes a pretty easily gathered group of ingredients: beef, mushrooms, Yukon gold potatoes, beer/wine, beef base, garlic, leeks, rosemary, salt and pepper. Depending on the mood, the pot roast may also include parsnips and/or turnips.

The first part of making my pot roast is seasoning the meat and making the liqour.  While the frying pan is heating up, chop the leek, tie up the bouquet garni and peel the cloves of garlic. Place these in the bottom of the crock pot. The seasoning is all up to you as long as it includes some salt and pepper. For this dish I used kosher salt, black pepper, dried thyme and a spice mix called 'Jakarta' from Once the meat has been seared on all sides, place it in the crock pot. At this point you want to take whatever alcohol you plan to put in the braising liqour and deglaze the pan, making sure to scrape off any of the bits that are stuck to the pan.  To deglaze simply pour the alcohol in the hot pan and stir around.

Pot Liqour: Highlands Brewery Oatmeal Porter, Knorr beef stock, 
rosemary and lemon thyme boquet garni.

One beer for the pot and one beer for me. Being a true Scottsman (or woman) I truly love a good ale.

Pour the liquid from the deglazed pan over the beef in the crock pot. Layer the mushrooms, potatoes and whatever other vegetables you might be using on top of the meat. Cover with water, which will mix with the pan juice to create a wonderful braising liqour.

Meat and mushrooms...yummmm.

I checked the pot at around 8 hours to make sure it was not overcooking or turning the vegetables to mush and then went on about my business. I have learned over the years to use larger cuts of vegetables when braising for long periods of time, or to add them towards the end. 

Once the meat was cooked and falling apart, I drained off the braising liqour, adjusted the seasonings and thickened it with a little cornstarch slurry-- I was way to hungry to wait until it thickened naturally. 

The finished product. Delicious.

My plate...even more delicious.

Carolyn's Fall Pot Roast

1 5-7lb       top or bottom round
1 each        leek, chopped, just the white part
1 pack        white mushrooms, rinsed free of dirt and left whole
5 each        Yukon gold potatoes, cut in 1/2 lengthwise
1 bottle       Dark beer or 2 cups red wine
                   beef stock to fill pot
                   salt and pepper to taste as well as any other seasoning you might want to use
                   bouquet garni ( in this case rosemary and thyme tied in a bundle for easy removal)

1.  Season meat with salt, pepper, thyme and whatever other seasonings you might want to use. Sear on all sides in a large frying pan coated with a little bit of olive oil. Once meat is seared remove from pan and place in crock pot on top of chopped leek, bouquet garni and garlic cloves.
2.  Deglaze pan with this by pouring the alcohol into the pan and stirring it around to remove the stuck on bits. If using a base and not a liquid stock, add the base to the pan and melt into alcohol. Pour the liquid over the meat in the crock pot.
3.  Put vegetables on top of the meat and cover with water. Put lid on the crock pot and turn it on to low. Cook for 7-10 hours. If using turnips or parsnips, add those when you have about 2 hours left in the process.
4.  When cooked, remove beef and vegetables and set aside. Pour out braising liqour into a sauce pan and bring to a boil. Thicken with a cornstartch slurry (cornstartch and water) and adjust seasoning.

Dig in!

I hope you enjoy this recipe and that it becomes one of your fall favorites as well.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Cupcakes, cupcakes and more cupcakes....

It seems that the world is obsessed with cupcakes these days, and I admit, I am as well. To me the cupcake is's all just for you, your own little cake, packaged to go in it's own little wrapper. When I first started writing my infrequent blogs, my niece introduced me to her favorite food blogs, from those I started looking for other blogs that peaked my interest. Of course, becuase of my said obsession with cupcakes, I looked for cupcakes blogs. My favorite cupcake blogs are, and They are fantastic! Lots of fun information, great recipes and places to find really beautiful cupcake wrappers. Along with a few wonderful cookbooks (Magnolia Bakery is one of the best) and the fun blogs, my friend in Philadelphia sends me messages about the new flavors she is trying from the cupcake truck that parks near her school. But, since I don't live in Philly and we have no cupcake trucks here, I just make my own. Here are a few of my most recent concoctions.

One of my favorite foods is caramel, I like it in all its many forms, sauce, candy, topping, whatever. As I was perusing the internet one day looking for inspiration I found salted caramel cupcakes. What??!! Oh my good golly I believe I found heaven on earth. So, I made them. Delicious. Really delicious. These are the ones that I made for a friends birthday not too long ago.

The 'halo' of caramelized sugar was my favorite part. It really made them look professional. I felt I had outdone myself!

On the Cupcake Project blog I found a recipe for cherry coke cupcakes. I was intrigued, especially since it said that I had to order special cola extract from a homemade soda company. Oh my! So, I did and I also ordered orange cream soda and cranberry gingerale extract. I mean, why not?

The recipe has no butter or eggs in it, so I was a little concerned that they weren't going to be as delicious as I wanted them to be, but I was wrong. They were fabulous. You put maraschino cherries in the bottom of them so it's like a little cherry surprise when you bite into them. The icing is basically a cream cheese icing with the cola extract, I didn't like the color of the icing all that much, but the flavor was wonderful. I put a little powdered sugar snow on top to make them look fizzy. These little darlings where a big hit at work.

A little drizzle of concentrated cherry juice makes them all that much more irresitable. Pretty and tasty.

Since the cola cupcakes where such a hit, I figured I could make some orange cream soda ones just as easily with the given recipe, and I was right. They were pretty darn good as well, but I did like the cola ones better.

A little sprinkle of white pearl sugar just made them that much prettier. I would call them orange blossom cupcakes, but I think that's a muffin recipe.

Cupcakes are a great way to cheer yourself up on a day to day basis. I make them at least a couple times a month just because I can. Most of the time it's taking a box recipe and adding a twist, like the lemon raspberry cupcakes I made recently. Duncan Hines lemon cake filled with store bought lemon curd mixed with raspberry preserves and iced with lemon cream cheese icing. Yummers. One day I will learn how to make a good buttercream and frost my cupcakes with something besides cream cheese icing, but for now I kinda like my cream cheese frostings.

Go forth and bake some fun cupcakes!

For the cherry cola cupcakes go to I substituted the orange extract for the cola extract to make the orange cream soda deliciousness. For the salted caramel cupcakes go to, they are triple salted caramel cupcakes, caramel filling inside, salted caramel icing and salted caramel decorations.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

The tradition continues...

I have a great group of friends in lovely Fernandina Beach and we all like good food and good booze. Almost three years ago a few of us got together and started a supper club. Although at first it was loosely held together, as time went on we organized and became the Second Monday Supper Club. It went pretty well for about a year and a half and then three of the core members moved away. And we really miss them. I think we fell apart a little at that point, but my great friend Susan and I have been working pretty hard to get us back together. How it works, we pick a theme and everyone who attends contributes or alcohol. We have had some pretty amazing dinners so far and I am happy that we are still going strong. 

The ladies on India Night. Silk scarves for all.

 Bundled up for our Oyster Roast!

The Oysters. Yummmmm....

And a few birthdays were celebrated during our dinner parties.
(This particular cake was for Colin's birthday--the cake had an 80's theme-decorated with a slinky, rubicks cube, Wayferer's and some 'cocaine' made out of powdered sugar.)

July's theme was "Hometown Cooking" which involved us making a dish that reminded us of our hometown, be that something native to where you grew up or something that was prepared in your home. For me it was easy, I grew up on Hilton Head Island and a dish that makes me think of home is Daufuskie Deviled Crab. Unfortunately I couldn't find the real recipe, I believe it is a protected historic document or something, but I made what I remembered my mother making as a child, sans the crab shell. She also made Savannah Red Rice, which is one of my favorite things ever. Some of the other dishes were chicken enchiladas, Jambalaya, shrimp and grits, roast beef, boiled shrimp, Cuban pork, apple crisp and some really yummy cheesy potato casserole. What I was really impressed with this go round was the creativity in the alcoholic beverages. I mean, these guys went all out.

The crab before it was baked to a golden brown.

Cheesy potato casserole (yummm) and the finished rice with some cornbread and the pot of Jambalaya.

Cuban pork and the finished Deviled Crab.

Two of the guests were from Georgia, and they made peach themed beverages: peach sangria and a white peach vanilla punch. Both were a complete success. Another, from Tennessee, made a 'moonshine' punch...she called it Meemaw's Moonshine Madness, and that it was, whew. I made a sweet tea vodka punch infused with lemon and mixed up with some club soda to make it fizzy, because I like fizzy. 


Savannah Red Rice
1 each      Red and Green Pepper
1 each      Sweet Yellow Onion
4 each      Pieces of Bacon
1 can        Tomato Paste
1 can        Petite Diced Tomatoes (10oz)
1 can        Crushed Tomatoes  (12oz)
3 cups      White Rice
3 cups      Water
2 sticks     Butter
hot sauce, salt and pepper to taste

Some of the ingredients.

The peppers, onion, bacon and tomatoes simmering in straight sided saute pan.

In a large straight sided saute pan, dice peppers, onions and bacon. Saute bacon in 2 tablespoons of butter until starting to crisp. Add onions and 2 more tablespoons of butter. Saute until becoming translucent. Add peppers, cook until soft. Add Tomato paste and cook for 3-5 minutes stirring to combine thoroughly. Add a little salt, pepper and hot sauce. Add diced and crushed tomatoes. Cook for -8 minutes. Add rice. Stir together and cook for 8-12 minutes, until liquid starts to evaporate. Add water slowly, stirring in completely. Pour rice mixture into pyrex, or other, baking dish. Cover tightly with aluminum foil and bake at 350 degrees for 45-1 hour. You will need to take out of the oven every 15-20 minutes and stir, adding water when necessary. Once it has been cooking for 30 minutes, taste and adjust seasoning. Re-cover and place back in the oven until the rice is soft and delicious! 

Mom would serve this with sauteed shrimp or chicken. It makes a great side to any basic meat or fish preperation. Delicious

As for the deviled crab, I loosely based mine on John Taylor's recipe that can be found on I used club crackers instead of saltines and I did not use the sherry, but only because I forgot to put it in. Oh was still pretty darn good.

To me there is nothing more fun than a good dinner party. Next month our theme is 'toppings'; I will provide the base ingredients and everyone else will provide the toppings. We even plan to have a sundae bar! Perfect for a hot August evening.

Thanks for reading and enjoy!

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Somewhat Homemade, Somewhat My Idea

My good friend at work, Paige, turned me on to a great blog-- Picky Palate. Great ideas and lots of fun pictures. Recently I made a recipe of hers Oreo Truffle stuffed Chocolate Chip Cookies. Oh My Goodness delicious! I mean ridiculous. She has all these fabulous stuffed cookies...candy bars, Oreos, s'mores, brownies all stuffed in chocolate chip cookies. I mean these are amazing. She has lots of other wonderful things too, but the cookies are really fun. So, after making the oreo stuffed cookies, I started thinking....

The aformentioned Paige also made the most wonderful cookie brownie combination that we call a Brookie, so I took the two ideas and smooshed them together and made a layered brownie cookie stuffed with Snickers bars and Resse's Cups. The bottom layer is a good old fashioned Toll House chocolate chip cookie, topped with a miniature Snicker or Resse's Cup and then filled in with brownie. The brownie mix is my favorite Ghirardelli Super Fudge Brownie. So, these are somewhat homemade and somewhat my idea.

The First Step: The Cookie Layer.

Toll House cookie mix, mini Snickers and Ghirardelli Brownie Mix

The Second Step: Pre-bake the cookie layer.

I used a small ice cream scoop to put an even layer of cookie in each muffin pan.

The Third Step: Put the candy on top of the cookie and fill it in with brownie mix.

I baked the cookies for about 6 minutes and then put the candy in.

The Fourth Step: Bake.

With the brownie mix on top.

After baking, I added some chips to add more chocolate...because they needed it!

The Fifth Step: Eat
I suggest making sure you have a glass of milk to go with it.

Recipe...or list of ingredients.

What you need:
Muffin/Cupcake pan and liners
Your favorite chocolate chip cookie recipe, plus extra chips for topping.
Packaged brownie mix.
Miniature Snickers bars or/and miniature Reese's cups.

Line the pan with paper liners. I usually spray the pan, just in case. Next, make the cookie dough. I like the classic Toll House Chocolate Chip Cookie recipe. Using a small ice cream scoop (about a 1.5 oz scoop), place a scoop into each liner. Bake at 350 degrees for 4-6 minutes. Remove from oven. Place one candy in each cup. Cover with a spoonfull of brownie batter. The cup will be about 2/3rds full. Bake at 350 for 10-12 minutes until the brownie batter is set. Remove from oven. Place around 5-6 chocolate chips on top of each brownie to create an icing of sorts, or you can ice with your favorite chocolate icing. (The Ghirardelli mix has an icing with it and it's pretty darn good.) 
Let them cool down a little before digging in. And, seriously, have that milk handy, you are going to need it.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Pretty Things

Again, it has been f-o-r-ever since my last post. Maybe if I could remember my sign in name I would post more often....hmmm. 

It has been a busy spring and early summer for myself and the staff of the Omni Amelia Island Plantation. As we are in our first year of becoming an Omni Resort, we have been making a lot of changes. In my department, Garde Manger (the keeper of the food, we do all the cold food preperations as well as make cheeses, sausages etc...and peel a lot of fruit), the major changes we have made have been to the presentation of our food. I am quite proud of how far our little department has come and I am looking forward to raising the bar again. 

In keeping with that spirit, I thought you might like to see some of the things we have been up to in the kitchen. Below you will find a few of our new amenities, canapes and some brilliant fruit carvings. 

First up: Amenities

At the hotel, we offer our repeat guests and our special guests amenities. The amenities are also used to welcome group contacts or other special guests, such as all the folks from Omni corporate headquarters that have been visiting getting ready for our upcoming renovations.

This is an example of the "Study of Oranges" 
dreamed up by our Garde Manger Brennan Pickren.
It is made up of a sweet potato orange pana cotta, various supremes of citrus topped with serrano ham, candied orange peel, blood orange fennel tarts, homemade grapefruit soda with yuzu whipped cream and various other seasonal citrus.
This is probably the Garde Manger's most complicated amenity, but it sure is pretty.

An example of a cheese plate, this one is not our standard "Goat, Sheep, Cow," but it gives you the idea. This one has goat cheese, brie, housemade bellini jam, chocolate covered strawberries and some yummy nuts.

Next: Canapes

In the banquet department we make a lot, I mean a lot, of pretty little canapes of various shapes and sizes. These are a few of my favorites. Definitely not the only ones we do, but some of the ones I have made lately.

Goat cheese with bee pollen and fresh honeycomb on little flower shaped crostini. 
They make me think of bridesmaids luncheons and girly tea parties!

Beef tenderloin and roquefort butter roulade on focaccia crostini.

 A big ole platter of tomato bruschetta crostini with smoked mozzarella creme. So good.

And now...a few pictures of others peoples work. 
Featuring my bossman and our newest associate.

First picture: Watermelon basket with birds and flowers. 
Second picture: Shrimp tempura roll w/ wasabi quinelles.
All of the above were made by my bossman, Brennan Pickren,
 (check out his blog

And now, a few pictures of the watermelons our newest associate carved. I am pretty sure she would be happy to never see another watermelon again, but they were really amazing.
 I am looking forward to learning a lot from her.

Seriously, I don't think I have ever seen carvings like these in real life. She is quite good.

Last, but not least, the marvelous cake that the pastry department made for 4th of July

A giant picnic table adorned with a whole lot of edible treats. Several of the other outlet chefs contributed to the cake, including yours truly...I made the FRUIT BOWL!

Cake fruit bowl covered in fondant and filled with rice krispy treat fruit. The kernals on the corn are candy corn and the apple pie is not really apple it all, it's rice krispy treats. Don't you just want to take a bite out of the burger or a big bowl of the beans. So much fun to make. 
And it was absolutely gorgeous.

The aftermath...

That concludes the self congratulatory part of my blog. Look for pictures from Second Monday Dinner Hometown Favorites next week. I am making my mothers, well, Daufuskie Island's, deviled crab and moms version of Savannah Red Rice. 

Thank you for reading.

Salted Carolyn