Happy Birthday!!

Happy Birthday to my sweet husband!!

Hopefully this will be your (and our) best year yet!!

I love you!!

Chocolate Toffee Cheesecake with Chocolate Ganache

Doesn't this look great??
It really is.
Sweet, chocolatey, goodness.
This is probably one of my favorite cheesecake recipes and it is so easy.

I warn you, though... a little goes a long way.  
It's a tad on the rich side.

I made this recently for our super fun "Dinner for 8" church group.
Not a bite was left.

Yep, it's that good.

Chocolate Toffee Cheesecake

For the crust:

1 1/4 cups graham cracker crumbs
5 tablespoons melted unsalted butter
3 tablespoons dark brown sugar

For the cheesecake:

3 8-ounce blocks of cream cheese, softened
8 ounces creme fraiche
3/4 cup sugar
1/3 cup dark brown sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon almond extract
pinch of salt
4 eggs plus 1 yolk
1 1/3 cups toffee bits
1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips

For the ganache:

2 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips
3/4 cup heavy whipping cream

To make the crust:

Preheat oven to 325 degrees.  In a small bowl add the graham cracker crumbs, melted butter, and brown sugar.  Mix well.  Pour into a buttered spring form pan.  Press the crumb mixture onto the base of the pan.  

To make the cheesecake:

In the bowl of a stand mixer, beat the cream cheese and creme fraiche on medium speed until thick.  Add the sugar and brown sugar.  Reduce the speed of the mixer to low and add the vanilla and almond extracts and salt.  Add the eggs, one at a time until fully incorporated.

Remove the batter from the mixer and fold in the toffee bits and chocolate chips until mixed well.  Pour over the crust.  

Bake for 65-75 minutes until the cheesecake is set and wiggles only slightly in the center.  Remove from the oven and run a sharp knife around the edge.  Cool in the pan.  Once cool, remove the outer rim and refrigerate for at least 4 hours.

To make the ganache:

Place whipping cream in a heat proof bowl and microwave on high until starting to boil.  Remove from the microwave and add the chocolate chips.  Stir until well blended.  Allow the ganache to cool for 5 minutes and then pour onto of the cheesecake.  Spread evenly.  Return cheesecake to the refrigerator and allow to chill for at least 3 more hours or overnight.

**This  recipe is from my friend Lori--I have no idea the original source.  Thanks Lori.


Homemade Salsa

I think that I've told you before over my obsession with Mexican food.
I love Tex-Mex the most and salsa...
let's just say around our house it's considered a condiment, like ketchup and mustard.

We eat it on everything.

Now that my tomatoes and peppers are in full swing,
I made up a batch.

Heavy on the ingredients I adore--peppers and garlic.

Homemade Salsa

2 pounds tomatoes, peeled and diced (about 4-6 depending on size)
2 jalapeño peppers, diced (mine were small)
2 cans rotel tomatoes
1 small onion, cut into quarters
6 cloves garlic, minced
juice of 1 lime
1/2 teaspoon cumin
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt

Combine all ingredients in a food processor and pulse to combine.  Add more salt or sugar to taste.


Grilled Corn with Parmesan and Basil

 In the summer we grill everything.
And there is almost nothing better than grilled corn on the cob.
It becomes super sweet and a little smoky.

By adding more than just butter to the corn, it really becomes a special side dish.

Grilled Corn with Parmesan and Basil

5-6 ears of corn
4 tablespoons butter, softened
1/4 cup Parmesan cheese, grated
2 tablespoons basil leaves, minced
salt and pepper to taste

Heat grill to 350 degrees.  Place the corn in the shuck on the grill and grill until the shucks are blackened and the corn becomes softer, about 20 minutes.

Combine the parmesan cheese and basil leaves on a plate.  Spread the butter on the corn and roll in the plate of parmesan and basil.  Sprinkle with salt and pepper to taste.


Thirsty Thursday--Classic Mojito

 There is almost no other cocktail more refreshing than a
Classic Mojito.

It's perfect on a hot, summer day.
I really love it with lots of mint.

Classic Mojito

8-10 mint leaves
1/2 lime, cut into wedges
1 teaspoon mint simple syrup
2 ounces white rum
club soda or lemon-lime soda
mint leaves for garnish
lime wedge for garnish

In the bottom of a shaker, muddle the mint leaves and lime wedges to release all of the natural juices.  Add ice, mint simple syrup, and rum.  Shake well to combine.  Pour into a glass filled with ice.  Top with soda and garnish with a lime wedge and mint.


A Few Garden Updates & Grilled Jamaican Jerk Chicken and Vegetable Kabobs

We are having a bumper crop of peppers this year.
Everyday I'm picking lots of jalapeños, poblanos, and bell peppers.
The tomatoes are also actually starting to produce also.

Three tomato plants--I warn everyone about over-planting.
I think the cherry tomato could probably use a bed to's ridiculous.
(We had a late start due to storms and the tornado, but better late than never.)

I actually picked so many jalapeños this weekend that I made  several jars of my candied jalapeños.
(Can't wait for those, I finished off the last jar from last year last month.
That's a lot of lasts.)

Two poblano plants--almost ready to pick.
For late July, everything is looking pretty good.
Our temperatures have been somewhat moderate...95-98 degrees everyday 
and we've actually had a little rainfall.

Jalapeño peppers

Gorgeous tomatoes and cherry tomatoes
I think that the storms really messed us up this year,
compared to the last few years.
We've had quite a bit of difficulty with flowering plants and some of our perennials.
They just haven't had the best time of it this summer.

Now on to the recipe...

Like I said, our peppers have been flourishing.
I'm picking peppers like Peter Piper.

They are absolutely beautiful and taste as good as they look.
I thought that they would be perfect for kabobs.

So I pulled out my favorite marinade recipe--Jamaican Jerk,
sliced up peppers, onions, and potatoes,
and made a super quick, easy, and delicious meal.

Jamaican Jerk Chicken and Vegetable Kabobs

1 1/2 cups jerk marinade
2 pounds boneless skinless chicken breast tenderloins, cut into bite size pieces
2 large purple onions
4 large bell peppers
2 pounds small red potatoes, parboiled and cut into fourths

Skewer the chicken, onion, bell peppers, and potatoes.  (I also made a kabob with just chicken and one with just potato).  Brush the jerk marinade on all of the kabobs.  Allow kabobs to marinate for at least 2 hours.

Preheat your grill to 350 degrees.  Spray a light layer of cooking spray on the grill. Grill the kabobs until the chicken is cooked thoroughly, when the internal temperature reaches 160 degrees and juices are no longer pink.  You will need to turn the kabobs a few times to prevent burning and sticking.

(The best part of this recipe is that you can make this with any type of vegetables--the sky is the limit.
Also, if you don't like as much spice, then reduce the peppers in the marinade or don't brush the vegetables with the marinade.  They tend to really absorb the spice.)


Thirsty Thursday--Honeydew Mimosas

I absolutely love any cocktail that has a little fizz--
champagne, sparkling wine, prosecco.

And Mimosas are one of my favorites.
I went to a shower not to long ago and the hostesses had an entire mimosa bar.
I was in heaven.

This recipe for Honeydew Mimosas is a perfect drink for brunch or even cocktail hour.
It's light and refreshing.
The honeydew and sparkling wine are absolutely made for each other.
I gave it a little extra oomph with the subtle addition of mint.

Honeydew Mimosa

2 ounces honeydew juice
1/2 ounce mint simple syrup
sparkling wine
melon for garnish

In a shaker filled with ice, pour in the honeydew juice and mint simple syrup.  Shake until well combined and chilled.  Pour into a chilled champagne flute and top with sparkling wine.  Garnish with a piece of melon.


Seafood Pasta Salad

Whenever we cook a big seafood meal,
I always try to plan for a little extra so that I can make this recipe.
It is one of my favorites.

You can make it so many different ways, and it's always great.
Just use your imagination and  you've got a great salad.

I love to use plenty of fresh vegetables and herbs, and perfectly cooked and seasoned seafood is a must.

Seafood Pasta Salad

1 pound macaroni shells, cooked (or pasta of your choice)
1 pound cooked and seasoned shrimp, cut into bite size pieces
1 pound crab meat
4 green onions, chopped
2 avocados, 1 chopped and 1 sliced
1 pint cherry tomatoes, halved
1 6-ounce jar marinated artichoke hearts, chopped
1 cup sweet peas (I used frozen, thawed)
1/2 cup basil leaves, finely chopped
1 tablespoon creole mustard
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1/2 cup olive oil
1/3 cup grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese

In a large bowl, combine the pasta, shrimp, crab, green onions, the chopped avocados, tomatoes, artichoke hearts, and sweet peas.  Stir to combine.  In another bowl, combine the basil, mustard, olive oil, salt, and pepper.  Whisk to combine.  Pour over the pasta mixture and stir to combine.  Top with the cheese and garnish with the sliced avocado.


Cinnamon Honey Scones

I'm usually one for pretty simple food.
Not too many complex ingredients or time consuming recipes, 
but I have been reading a lot of Thomas Keller 's cookbooks  (and other great chefs) and am truly inspired to push myself.

Therefore I decided to just  "go for it" and
make Thomas Keller's Cinnamon Honey Scones from Bouchon Bakery.
(I'm hoping to make a lot more of his recipes--steps and ingredients be damned.)

My first recipe from his books are these scones.
I absolutely love scones.
(It's kind of like a fancy biscuit with fruit or some other type of flavor mixed in it....
and what southerner doesn't love a biscuit.)
I've made other scone recipes in the past, 
but this one was completely different and I really enjoyed the texture and ease in which the dough was easy to manipulate.

Now don't get me wrong,  this recipe is a little bit over the top.
But, I was committed.
And when I'm committed to something I go all in.

The final result were some really amazing scones.
They were buttery and sweet with ribbons of cinnamon and honey throughout.
Totally worth the time and preparation.

Cinnamon Honey Scones

(slightly adapted from Bouchon Bakery by Thomas Keller and Sebastien Rouxel)

For the cinnamon honey cubes:

30 g (3 tablespoons) all-purpose flour
30 g (2 1/2 tablespoons) sugar
4 g (1 1/2 teaspoons) ground cinnamon
30 g (2 tablespoons) cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/4-inch pieces
20 g (1 tablespoon) honey

For the scones:

152 g (1 cup + 1 1/2 tablespoons) all-purpose flour
304 g (2 1/4 + 2 tablespoons) cake flour
12.5 g (2 1/2 teaspoons) baking powder
2.5 g (1/2 teaspoons) baking soda
91 g (1/4 cup + 3 1/2 tablespoons) sugar
227 g (2 sticks) cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/4-inch pieces
135 g (1/2 cup + 1 1/2 tablespoons) heavy cream
135 g (1/2 cup + 2 tablespoons) creme fraiche

For the honey butter glaze:

2 oz. (4 tablespoons) unsalted butter, melted
20 g (1 tablespoons) honey
2 tablespoons sifted powdered sugar** (I added this)

To make the cinnamon honey cubes:  Add the flour, sugar, and cinnamon to a medium bowl and whisk to combine.  Add the butter and toss until the pieces are coated in the dry ingredients.  Use a pastry cutter to cut the butter into the dry ingredients until no large visible pieces of butter remain.  Stir in the honey with a rubber spatula until the mixture forms a smooth paste.  Turn the paste out onto a piece of plastic wrap and shape into a 4-inch square.  Wrap the mixture and freeze for at least 2 hours (or up to 1 week).

To make the scones:  Sift both flours, the baking powder, baking soda, and sugar into the bowl of a stand mixer with a paddle attachment.  Mix on low speed briefly, just until combined.  Add the butter pieces, and mix on low speed until no large visible pieces remain, about 3 minutes.  With the mixer on low, gradually pour in the heavy cream, then add the creme fraiche, and continue mixing for about 30 seconds, or until the dry ingredients are evenly moistened.  A rough dough should form around the paddle.

Remove the cinnamon honey butter from the freezer and cut into 1/4-inch pieces.  Add them to the bowl with the dough and use a spoon to incorporate them by hand (it's fine if they start to break up a bit).

Turn the dough onto a large piece of plastic wrap and press it together to form a cohesive mass.  Place a second piece of plastic wrap on top, and shape the dough into a 7 1/2 by 10-inch rectangle, smoothing the top and sides the best you can (if the dough becomes soft and difficult to work with, just pop it in the fridge for a few minutes).  Wrap the dough in the plastic wrap, and refrigerate for about 2 hour, or until firm.  (I froze mine overnight.)

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.  Remove the dough from the freezer and using a sharp knife, cut it lengthwise into thirds and crosswise into quarters so you end up with 12 equally sized scones.  (I cut my scones into triangular pieces instead of rectangles for a more traditional look.)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Transfer them to the prepared baking sheet, leaving about 1-inch of space between them.  Bake for about 28-30 minutes or until the scones are golden brown and slightly firm.  

Meanwhile make the glaze by whisking the butter, honey, and powdered sugar together until combined.  When you remove the scones from the oven, immediately brush the tops with the glaze.  Sprinkle with additional powdered sugar.

**The book froze the dough an additional time before baking, but I omitted that part because I made the dough the night before and froze.**


Thirsty Thursday--Watermelon Paloma

I had never had a paloma cocktail until the other weekend,
and boy was I hooked.

I really liked the simplicity of the fruit juice with the tequila.
Not as sugary sweet.
Just simple and delicious.

This one is no exception.
I used fresh watermelon juice, tequila, and a little bit of mint simple syrup.

Watermelon Paloma

2 ounces tequila
4 ounces watermelon juice
1 teaspoon mint simple syrup
2 ounces club soda
mint leaves for garnish
watermelon pieces for garnish

Combine the watermelon juice, tequila, and mint simple syrup in a shaker filled with ice.  Shake until well combined and pour into a glass filled with ice.  Top with the club soda.

Garnish with a few mint pieces and watermelon pieces.


Peanut Butter Fudge Ice Cream

By now you've probably realized that I have a thing for peanut butter.

It is definitely one of my favorite foods to eat and to cook with.
It is such a treat.

I've made a few recipes over the years that feature peanut butter
(here, here, here, and here).

But, I must say that this one might just be my favorite.

There's just something so perfect about ice cream.
And this one, whew, is a killer.

The ice cream is peanut butter and the swirl running through it is a decadent chocolate sauce.
Top it with more fudge sauce and sprinkle a few Reeses' minis and you have a legendary dessert.

Peanut Butter Fudge Ice Cream
(adapted slightly from Sweet Cream and Sugar Cones via Tracey's Culinary Adventures)

Fudge Sauce
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar
1 cup water
6 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder, sifted
1/4 cup light corn syrup
1/8 teaspoon kosher salt
1 ounce bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Peanut Butter Ice Cream
1 3/4 cups heavy cream
3/4 cup 1% milk
3/4 cup sugar, divided
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
5 large egg yolks
1/3 cup creamy peanut butter
1/4-1/3 cup fudge sauce

To make the fudge sauce:  Whisk together the sugar, water, cocoa powder, corn syrup, and salt in a small saucepan.  Set over medium-high heat and bring to a simmer, whisking frequently.  Remove the pan from the heat once the sugar has completely dissolved.  Add the chopped chocolate and set the pan aside for 1 minute, then whisk until the chocolate is melted and the mixture is smooth.  Stir in the vanilla extract.  Transfer the sauce to a heatproof container and refrigerate until completely chilled.  Do not add to your ice cream until very cold.

To make the ice cream:  Add the heavy cream, milk, half of the sugar, and the salt to a medium saucepan and set over medium heat.  Allow the mixture to come to a simmer.

Meanwhile, whisk the egg yolks and the remaining sugar in a heatproof bowl until pale in color.  Add the peanut butter to a second heatproof bowl and set aside.  Slowly add the warm cream mixture to the egg yolks, whisking constantly.  Pour back into the saucepan and set over medium-low heat.  Stir constantly until the mixture thickens enough to coat the back of a wooden spoon (about 170-175 F on an instand read thermometer).  Strain the custard into the bowl containing the peanut butter and stir to combine.

Cover and refrigerate until thoroughly chilled (overnight is best).  Freeze in your ice cream maker according to the manufacturer's instructions.  As you transfer the ice cream to an airtight container for storing, drizzle the fudge sauce every so often.  Once you've added all of the ice cream and fudge sauce, gently swirl with a butter knife.  Freeze until firm, at least 4 hours.

Garnish with more fudge sauce and a few Reeses' minis.


Grilled Seafood Feast

This past weekend I discovered that I really can't choose which type of seafood I like best.
I absolutely love it all.
Crab, lobster, get it, right.

This recipe was by far one of the easiest things that I have cooked in a while.
You put it in a pan and cook for 20 minutes and you have the best seafood feast out there.
Buttery, garlic, and seasoned just right.
Don't be ashamed to lick your fingers, it's that good.

We cooked all of this on our Big Green Egg, but you can easily cook it on a gas grill or even in the oven.

Grilled Seafood Feast

2 large lemons
2 sticks of butter
10 garlic cloves, chopped
1/2 cup white wine
1-1 1/2 tablespoons seasoning of your choice (I used Dizzy Pig Raging River)
3 pounds small red potatoes
2 pounds Alaskan King Crab
2 large lobster tails
1 pound shrimp, peeled and deveined with tails on

Heat your grill to 350 degrees.  Grill lemons face down until caramelized, about 2-3 minutes.  

Place the potatoes in a pot of water and bring to a boil.  Boil until they are just starting to become fork tender. Remove from the water and set aside.
In a large disposable tin foil pan place 1 1/2 sticks of butter, cut in to pieces, garlic, and white wine in the bottom.  Layer the seafood into the pan and add the potatoes.  Sprinkle the contents heavily with the seasoning.  Squeeze 3 of the lemon halves over the contents and set the remaining lemon half to the side to use after the mixture has cooked.

Cover tightly with heavy duty tin foil and cook on the grill for 20 minutes.  (You may need to take the lobsters out and cook for a few more minutes on the grill just until done, depending upon the size of the tails.)

Serve with the remaining butter and a little extra seasoning if desired.


Spicy Hushpuppies

This time of year my husband and Dad do a lot of fishing.  
So we have a lot of fish frys.

And, you can't have a fish fry without hushpuppies.

I usually make one of two recipes--

Greg's Hushpuppies or Spicy Hushpuppies.
Both are really great, but I really love the cornmeal in these.

Spicy Hushpuppies

1/2 cup flour
1 cup cornmeal
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 jalapeño pepper, minced
2 tablespoons green onion
1 egg
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup whole milk
1 (8 1/4 ounce) can cream corn

Combine all of the ingredients in a medium bowl. Heat the oil to 375 degrees.  Drop the batter by tablespoonfuls into the hot grease and fry until they are golden brown.  Make sure to flip them at least once.


My Favorite Summer Makeup

This time of year, when the temps reach 100 daily,
I tend to wilt.
I remember the days when I would put on a
little moisturizer, lip gloss, and mascara and I was out the door.
That was way before 40 year old skin.
I try my best to still look natural, but it takes just a little more time and product.
I tend to use more of the under makeup than the makeup it self.

Here are my few simple summer products help me to look my best when the weather is hot and sticky.

These are my daytime products.
I try to use the lightest products possible.
Because nothing looks worse than sweaty, dripping make-up. 
(You know who you are and stop it.)

La Mer Soft Cream, lighter and perfect for the day under foundation.
I know, I know.
It's way to expensive.
I've tried everything, but it feels so wonderful.
Seriously, this stuff is amazing.
It is creamy and so soothing, and it lasts a really long time.
(I think, because it is so expensive, that I am always aware of the amount I use--
I've had this jar for about 6 months.)

La Mer Eye Balm Intense, light and smooth.  
This eye balm helps reduce puffiness and dryness.
Perfect for dry, hot weather.
It takes the circles under my eyes away!!
I'm for real when I say that I notice a difference right away.
Also lasts a really long time.

This day cream feels wonderful and I never go out without an SPF.
It doesn't feel heavy, but I just feel better knowing I'm wearing sunscreen.

The best foundation I think I have ever used.
This makeup provides a great foundation and is so smooth and light.
It is great in that it doesn't sit in your pores or fine lines.
That's important when you start to have them
(and they are not fun).

The finish is matte and it is ultra-light.  
The best part is that it stays where it is supposed to stay.
It feels amazing and the coverage is great.

This bronzer is amazing.
It is super fine milled and is so smooth.
Not too dark, but just enough bronze to look like I've been out in the sun instead of inside working.

Super fine and works wonders.
Keeps everything in its place.
Softens imperfections and smooths fine lines.
Perfect for hot summer days.

I usually keep everything simple during the summer.
In addition to my favorite face products I like to keep everything simple--
light gloss for my lips, my Perfekt  mascara, nude eyeshadow, and a light eyeliner.

What are your go-to products for summer?