Thursday, December 31, 2009

Orange Honey & Ricotta Cheesecake

"Thank you for being a friend... traveled down the road and back again..."
The Golden Girls had it right. A cheesecake is the perfect accessory for any late night fest... an after dinner dessert... an mid-afternoon pick-me-up... or simply a great breakfast. Cheesecake is my guilty pleasure and I am happy to share this recipe with you!

Inspired by
Giada De Laurentiis and her honey and ricotta cheesecake, I started to experiment, and come up with my own. The texture is smooth, slightly sweet, and the almond and orange burst on your taste buds the moment you take your first bite. A little lighter than a traditional cheesecake, you'll feel a little less guilty about eating that second slice! Enjoy...

12 servings
30 minute prep time
1 hour 20 minute cook time
6 hour set time

1/2 box (8 ounces) honey flavored graham crackers
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1 stick unsalted butter, melted
1 (15 ounce) container of whole milk ricotta, room temperature
2 (8 ounce) packages of Philadelphia cream cheese, room temperature
2/3 cup sugar
1/2 cup orange blossom honey
1 tablespoon almond extract
Zest of one orange
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
4 large eggs, room temperature

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Wrap the outside of a springform pan with three layers of aluminum foil.

2. In a food processor pulse together graham crackers and brown sugar until no large chunks of cracker remain. Add melted butter and pulse until crumbs are evenly moistened. Press the mixture onto the bottom (not the sides) of the prepared springform pan. Bake for 15 minutes and let cool for 10 minutes.

3. In a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, on low speed mix ricotta until smooth. Add cream cheese and sugar mixing only until combined. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and add honey, almond extract, orange zest, and salt. Mix only until combined.

4. Still on low speed, add one egg at a time until combined. Do not over mix. Excess air will cause your cheesecake to crack and bubble.

5. Pour the cheese mixture over the crust. Place the springform pan into a large roasting pan. Fill the roasting pan with warm water until it comes halfway up the side of the springform pan. Transfer to oven and bake for roughly 1 hour and 5 minutes until the top is golden and the center of the cake jiggles slightly when the pan is shaken. The cheesecake will firm up when it is chilled.

6. Remove spring form pan from water bath and let cool 1-2 hours. Loosely place a piece of plastic wrap on top of the cheesecake and refrigerate over night or for at least 6 hours.

7. To release from pan, run a butter knife under hot water and then around the edge of the springform pan. Once the cake has been separated from the sides, open the springform. Warm the butter knife again and slide it underneath the crust to separate it from the bottom of the springform pan. Carefully transfer cake to a flat plate, sprinkle with powdered sugar, garnish with an orange rind, and serve!


Quick & Dirty Tips

Preventing cracks and bubbles are key to having your cheesecake look fabulous and not taste dried out. So, here are the three "must never be broken rules" when it comes to making your own.

1. Don't over mix the
ingredients... you don't want to add extra air to the batter.

Use room temperature (68-76 degree) ingredients.... helps ingredients combine easily.

Don't skip the water bath... it helps the cake cook evenly rather then the sides cooking faster then the middle.

Other tips: Use Philadelphia cream cheese... it just tastes better! You can substitute any type of honey for the orange blossom honey. If you use low-fat or no-fat ricotta or cream cheese, expect your cheesecake to taste low-fat or no-fat! Blah...

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Breakfast Crepes

Let's put the myth that making crepes are hard to rest. People think crepes are hard to make because the first one ALWAYS comes out looking terrible! The truth is, you need to sacrifice that first crepe to the food Gods (and sometimes the second one too) until they start coming out looking great. No need for a special crepe making pan. Just good eyes, sensible heat, a good nonstick pan, and a little practice.

The good news.... crepes are one of the most inexpensive breakfasts foods you can make and the ingredients are pretty much on-hand in anyone's kitchen. So, get practicing!!!

8 crepes (4 servings)
10 minute prep time
3 minute cook time
15 minute inactive time

4 eggs
1 cup milk
1 cup water
2 tablespoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup butter, melted
2 cups flour

Filling Ideas
Strawberries, bananas, nutella, whipped cream, syrup

1. In a food processor, mix together eggs, milk, water, sugar, and salt. Add the melted butter and mix until well blended. Add flour and continue to process until smooth with no lumps. Pour into a mixing bowl, and let sit for 15 minutes to allow the bubbles to rise to the top.

2. Prepare whatever you would like for fillings. Sliced strawberries, bananas, Nutella (a chocolate hazelnut spread), fresh whipped almond cream, and Vermont maple syrup are a few of my favorites. I also like reconsituted raisins and crasins (1/2 cup of each, fill with water till it just covers the fruit, add a couple teaspoons for brown sugar, and boil for 15-25 minutes until the fruit is plump).

3. Heat a non-stick frying pan to medium heat. No need for the pan to be screaming hot. Spray with non-stick spray and pour slightly less then a 1/4 cup of batter into the middle of the pan. Pick-up the pan and rotate slowly to allow the batter to spread out evenly. The goal is to make a perfect circle. Put the pan back down on the burner and allow to cook until the edges are slightly dry. Using any method you like, flip the crepe over and start cooking the other side.

And now... and important Quick & Dirty Tip: it takes about 1 minute for each side to cook. When you flip it over, the crepe should still be pale or just starting to develop color. You don't want to brown the crepe as it will be too dry and not fold well. I use a fork and my thumb to flip these suckers over, some people use a spatula, and others use chop sticks. I say, whatever gets the job done without breaking the crepe is the correct way to do it.

4. THROW AWAY THE FIRST CREPE. Spray your pan with non-stick spray and start your second crepe. When it is finished (and this one should look a lot nicer), put on a towel lined cookie sheet and keep in a 180 degree oven until all the crepes are finished. As each one is finished cooking, stack them up right on top of each other.

5. To plate, fold 2 crapes in half, and then in half again. Put all your fillings on the side and let your friends and family stuff the crepes however they like. Enjoy!


Quick & Dirty Tips:
Have fun with the fillings... the possibilities are endless.

If you want to make the process even faster, do two pans at a time! Or you can be crazy like me and trying doing four pans... that makes you a crepe master.

If the crepes are coming out dark, turn down the temperature on the stove. Getting the correct heat in the pan is key for crepes to come out well.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Chocolate Cranberry Almond Biscotti

I won't reveal the name of the person that said this, but recently a person who is very connected to the Pomegranate Inn made the comment, "You can make biscotti?" She wasn't talking about me having the ability but rather, the fact the most Americans find biscotti in a tub or jar individually wrapped for mass consumption.

Yes, the everyday person CAN make
biscotti! But why make mass produced Plain Jane Biscotti when you can throw a bunch of additional flavors into it? This recipe really is so easy to make and I hope it inspires you to head to the kitchen and whip up a batch!

16-20 servings
10 minute prep time
45 minute cook time
10 minutes inactive time

2 cups all purpose flour
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup granulated sugar
3 large eggs
1 tablespoon almond extract
1 cup dried cranberries
3/4 cup semisweet chocolate chips

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

2. In a large bowl, whisk together flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, and salt.

3. In an electric mixer, mix butter and sugar until well combined. Continue mixing adding one egg at a time until mixture is light and fluffy. Stir in almond extract.

4. Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and mix until a stiff dough forms. Add cranberries and chocolate chips and mix until well combined.

5. Liberally, flour a work surface and knead dough several times, adding more flour as needed. Keep kneading until dough is only slightly sticky but not stick to the work surface.

6. Divide the dough in half. Take one half and form into a 2 inch wide by 10 inch long rectangle. Repeat with the second half of the dough. Place both rectangles on the parchment lined pan and bake for 35 minutes at 350 degrees.

7. Remove biscotti from the oven and let cool on the pan for 10 minutes. Transfer to a cutting board and slice diagonally, forming biscotti that are about 4-5 inches in length.

8. Transfer biscotti back to the baking pan and continue cooking for an additional 5-8 on each side until dry and firm on the outside of each biscotti. Remove from oven and let cool. Enjoy!


Quick & Dirty Tips
When slicing the "rectangle" use a bread knife. It works much better and won't crush your creation!

I always add extra chocolate chips when I am making cookies, but DON'T when making biscotti... you'll end up with a lot of melted chocolate everywhere and biscotti that is really just chocolate bread. I've learned from my own mistake....

On the second bake, I lay the cut side down, then turn the biscotti after 5-8 minutes. I've tried to cheat by just putting the bottom down on the pan but it overcooked the bottom leaving a slightly burnt flavor. You just want to get moisture out of the biscotti and crisp up the outside.

Biscotti will last for a week at room temperature in a plastic bag and several months in the freezer. Defrost at room temperature.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Jam & Coconut Thumbprint Cookies

Another great Ina Garten recipe that I have changed just a hair to my liking. I've spiked the dough with a healthy dose of almond extract (my favorite extract) and given the jam a citrus lift.
The cookie dough for this recipe is a cross between a shortcake and biscotti that isn't fully cooked, giving the cookie a dry yet chewy texture. The coconut browns so nicely making the cookies look like edible pieces of art! These quickly became a staff and guest favorite. Enjoy!

16 Servings (2 cookies per serving)
15 minute prep time
1 hour inactive time
25 minute cook time

3 sticks unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 1/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 teaspoons almond extract
3 1/2 cups all purpose flour
Pinch of Kosher salt
2/3 cup raspberry jam
2/3 cup orange marmalade
2 limes, juiced
2 eggs beaten with 2 tablespoons water
1 10 oz. bag of shredded coconut


1. In a mixer, cream together the butter and sugar until they are well combined. Add the vanilla and almond extracts and mix until combined.

2. Sift together flour and salt. Add flour mixture to the butter mixture over low speed until well combined and dough starts to come together as a ball. Turn out onto a floured surface, roll into a disk and wrap in plastic wrap. Refrigerate at least 1 hour.

3. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Prepare two baking sheets ungreased with parchment paper.

4. Mix together raspberry jam and the juice of one lime and set aside. Repeat for the orange marmalade.

5. Prepare a dipping station with two bowls. One with the egg and water mixture. The other with the shredded coconut.

6. Roll dough into 32 even balls, about 1 1/4 inch each or about 1 ounce each, if you have a kitchen scale. Dip each ball into egg wash and then roll in coconut. Place 8 cookies on each baking sheet.

7. Press an indentation on the top of each cookie with your thumb. Drop about 1/4 teaspoon of jam into each cookie. Alternate batches between the two different jams.

8. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes until the coconut is golden brown. Cool and serve!


Quick & Dirty Tips
You can use any kind of jam or preserves that you like for this recipe. Raspberry and orange marmalade just happen to be what I had on hand this time. I would avoid jellies as they are to watery to hold up to the baking process.

Really only use 1/4 teaspoon of jam on each cookie. It doesn't look like much, but as it cooks, it bubbles and spreads. To much jam results in a cookie with jam all over the top and sides. Still tastes great... but doesn't look as nice!

Don't melt the butter in the microwave. Let it get to room temperature on it's own. It really makes a difference in how it bakes off later.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Lemon Curd Tassie Cups

I love tart-yet-sweet-treats that make your mouth pucker. A few weeks ago while watching Paula Deen on the Food Network, I was amazed at the look of her creation: mini pastry cups filled with a tart lemon curd. So, I whipped up a batch the next day at The Pomegranate Inn, and now, a few weeks later, I am ready to post my own recipe for these delicious treats.

I've added a bit more pucker to the curd and sweetened up the tassie cup just a little bit... Enjoy!!!

24 cups (12 servings)
15 minutes prep time
60 minutes inactive time
10 minutes cook time

Tassie Cups
4 oz. cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup butter, softened
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups flour
2 tablespoon sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt

Lemon Curd
4 large lemons, zested & juiced
1/8 cup bottled or fresh lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon lemon extract
1 cup sugar
4 eggs
1/2 cup butter, melted


1. Place all ingredients for the tassie cups into food processor and process on low until a single pastry ball forms. Turn out onto a piece of plastic wrap, press into a disk, and refrigerate for at least 1 hour.

2. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

3. Using 2 ungreased 12-cup mini-muffin pans, divide pastry into 24 even balls, and press into the bottom and sides of each cup. Bake for 20 minutes until lightly browned. Cool and remove from pans.

4. Heat a large sauce pan filled about a 1/3 of the way with water until it is boiling. Reduce to a simmer. Meanwhile...

5. In food processor, place lemon zest and sugar and process until well combined. Add the squeezed lemon juice, the fresh or bottle lemon juice, lemon extract, and eggs to the sugar mixture and process till smooth. Slowly add the butter through the feed tube until well combined.

6. Place mixture in a metal bowl and place over the simmering water creating a double boiler. Whisk the mixture until and the sugar has dissolved and the mixture has thickened; about 5-10 minutes.

7. Spoon the warm lemon curd into each tassie cup. Cool and sprinkle with powdered sugar. Don't throw away any extra lemon curd... eat it by the spoonful yourself!


Quick & Dirty Tips
If you are in a rush while making the curd, whisk in the double boiler until the mixture does not seem to thicken anymore. Transfer the bowl into a larger bowl filled with ice. Continue to whisk mixture to cool it and it should thicken a great deal more.

When panning up the tassie cups, really press the pastry onto the sides of the muffin tin. It may seem very thin, but it expends a great deal while cooking.

If you want the powdered sugar, wait for everything to cool down... otherwise, it just melts!

Sunday, June 21, 2009


Butter, honey, sugar, butter, dough, nuts, butter, spices, and more butter.... what could be more delicious? Being caught between layers of baklava could possibly be Paula Dean's and my own personal heaven.

Baklava has been claimed by many ethnic groups as their own, but since this is my blog, I am going to claim it officially for Greece.... even if the origin of the word came to English via Turkish. Regardless of where this lovely treat originated, it is delicious, sweet, a bit time consuming, but well worth the effort. Enjoy!

24 Servings
60 minutes prep time
45 minutes cook time

1/2 lb. walnuts
1/2 lb. almonds
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 sticks unsalted butter
1 lb. phyllo dough

1 1/4 cup honey
1 1/4 cup sugar
1 cup water
Juice of one lemon
Rind of 1/2 a lemon
2 cinnamon sticks
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon cardamom
Pinch of coriander


1. Thaw phyllo dough according to the package directions. Leave wrapped until ready to use.

2. In a food processor, combine walnuts, almonds, cinnamon, and salt. Pulse about 15 to 20 times until finely chopped.

3. Melt butter over low heat in a sauce pan. Do not allow to brown.

4. Spray the bottoms and sides a 9 x 13 baking dish with non-stick cooking spray.

5. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

6. Assemble nut mixture, butter, and baking dish on your work surface. Open the phyllo dough and immediately cover with a slightly damp kitchen towel. The sheets dry out extremely quickly and need to have the cover. If the phyllo dough is larger then the dish you are using, trim to size with a knife.

7. Lay one sheet of phyllo dough on the bottom of the pan and cover remaining phyllo with damp towel. Using a pastry brush, brush phyllo sheet with melted butter. Repeat this process seven times, buttering each new sheet of phyllo dough.

8. Spread evenly 1/3 of the nut mixture atop the last layer of buttered phyllo dough.

9. Atop the nut layer, lay one sheet of phyllo dough, brush with butter, and continue process until 7 more layers have been added. Spread 1/2 of the remaining nut mixture atop the last layer of buttered phyllo dough.

10. Atop the nut layer, lay one sheet of phyllo dough, brush with butter, and continue process until 7 more layers have been added. Spread the remaining nut mixture atop the last layer of buttered phyllo dough.

11. Atop the nut layer, lay one sheet of phyllo dough, brush with butter, and continue process until 7 layers have been added. Butter the top of the final sheet of phyllo dough.

12. Using a sharp knife, make a cut lengthwise through the center of the layered phyllo. Now, cut each one of those "halves" in half, creating 4 even lengthwise rows. Now, turn your pan and cut down the center to form a column. Make two cuts on each side of the center cut, creating 6 even columns. In the end, you should have 24 squares. Make sure to cut all the way through the bottom layer.

13. Transfer your baking dish to the preheated oven and cook about 45 minutes until golden brown. Meanwhile...

14. In a medium sauce pan, combine the honey, sugar, water, lemon juice, lemon rind, cinnamon sticks, cloves, cardamom, and coriander over medium heat. Stir until the sugar is dissolved then reduce the heat to medium-low. Cook until the syrup has thicken slightly; about 20 minutes. Keep an eye on the pan so that it does not boil over.

15. Remove lemon rind and cinnamon sticks and let syrup sit to cool.

16. Remove baklava from oven and let cool in the pan for 5-10 minutes. Pour the syrup mixture over the top and allow to cool for several hours at room temperature uncovered. It will look like a lot of liquid, but it will be soaked up by the baklava.

Baklava will remain fresh for 10 days at room temperature. Like it will even last that long...


Quick & Dirty Tips
Replace the damp towel on top of the unused phyllo dough immediately have using a sheet of it. You'll be amazed at how quickly it dries out and turn to paper... and sticks together... and gets you mad... and angry...

Buy 2 boxes of phyllo dough in case it starts to dry out or gets to damp. Helps to have an "emergency" box on hand.

I cut the lemon in half to juice it and then just throw one of the halves in for the syrup rather then zesting it or anything fancy... the flavor will be drawn out either way.

You can use any type of nuts... but always keep at least 1/2 the nuts walnuts. When I made this yesterday, I used a combination of walnuts, almonds, pecans, and a handful of pistachios leftover in the pantry.

I double this recipe and use what is called a 1/2 sheet pan. It takes two sheets of phyllo to cover the surface area and makes 48 squares. I love it.... simply double everything!

Friday, June 12, 2009

Banana Bread

I love sweet breads and especially ones that make your whole house smell good when they are baking. Every time I make banana bread, I swear guests come flocking to the kitchen with curiosity on their face and only one question on their mind, "What 'cha making?"

I have a friend who sells houses and when she is showing, she always puts something in the oven that will take a while to bake, like a banana bread. She swears that when she does this, clients visualize themselves in the house, it makes them fall in love with the house, and they buy the house. She gets paid for doing her job and gets a nice loaf of banana bread to boot!

One bowl, one spoon, and only a handful of ingredients that you already have in your cupboards. Double it, triple it, quadruple it... You can't go wrong with this recipe! Enjoy....

8 Servings
10 minute prep time
65 minute cook time

4 large ripe bananas
1/3 cup butter, melted
1/2 cup white sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
2 eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 teaspoon almond extract
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
Pinch of salt
2 cups all-purpose flour


1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees and spray a 4x8 inch loaf pan with non-stick spray. Set aside.

2. With peels on, heat bananas in the microwave just to warm them up; about 45 seconds. Peel and mash in a large mixing bowl with a wooden spoon. Add melted butter and mix until well combined.

3. Mix in both sugars, eggs, vanilla extract, almond extract, cinnamon, and nutmeg.

4. Sprinkle in the baking powder and baking soda and mix.

5. Add the flour and mix until well combined.

6. Pour mixture into the prepared loaf pan. Bake for 65 minutes until a knife comes out clean from the center of the loaf. Cool in pan for 15 minutes then transfer to a wire rack to finish cooling. Serve warm or cold.


Quick & Dirty Tips
If you don't have ripe bananas, microwave until warm and then transfer to the refrigerator for several hours. This alters the bananas just enough to bring out the sweetness and tenderness needed.

Don't omit the salt... it is a flavor enhancer!

Resist the urge to open the oven to check on the bread. Let it bake for the 65 minutes, then check on it.

Instead of spreading butter on your slice of bread, try cream cheese or peanut butter!

I make a bunch of loaves at a time. This break freezes really well. Just heat back up in a warm oven or the microwave.

I use this bread to make Banana Bread French Toast... recipe coming soon!