Orange Blossom Cheesecake with Pomegranate & Blackberry Compote

I got inspired to make this when I saw it while browsing on a food app on my iPhone.  I have been looking for reasons to use my orange blossom water. I know that I could have just used some orange juice or zest and got an orange flavor, but I love the light floral notes in orange blossom water. It is easily found at any Middle Eastern market store, and it lasts forever if refrigerated. Pomegranate fruit is just fun and messy as can be, but it’s worth the work for that crunchy tart flavor. Blackberries remind me of my childhood home.  We had wild blackberry bushes all over the property that we used to just stop and eat when we got hungry while playing outside. With three of some of my favorite ingredients in this one dessert, I could not wait to make it.

You can take a typical cheesecake to a new level by adding in the orange blossom water. The flavor is amazing and subtle.  You can even substitute the orange blossom water for lemon juice and you could have a great basic cheesecake recipe.  The compote is tart and flavorful.  The leftovers are fantastic as a syrup over waffles or pancakes.  Maybe even ice cream?  The possibilities are up to you.

Seeding a pomegranate is not as troublesome as you might think. It is as simple as filling a bowl with cold water, cutting your fruit into quarters, and working it in the water prevents the juice from squirting everywhere, also easily sorts out the seeds from the skin.  The seeds sink to the bottom of your water bowl, and the skin floats.  Here is a great video on how to seed a pomegranate the way I am trying to describe.   Much easier than you might think, over all it produces a flavor that the bottle juice cannot match.

There are a few tips I have picked up to help prevent large cracks in your cheesecakes.  Watch the temperature of the cake is a big one, but to me not as big as greasing the sides of the spring-form pan before you add in the filling.  Also can always add a bit of cornstarch to the recipe to help stabilize the egg proteins.  I like to use all three methods with this specific cheesecake recipe, which is my favorite to go to.

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Chicken and Mushroom Risotto

This isn’t the first time I have made risotto, but it didn’t turn out nearly as good as this recipe did.  I knew the basic idea of it, slowly boil rice with stock until creamy and tender.  This needed to be quite savory since it was going to be as a main and not a side dish.  Big slices of mushroom, thick chunks of chicken, and creamy rice.  An ideal meal to welcome fall.  This recipe makes a perfect portion for a main dish for two, and is easily doubled for a family size meal.   It is my new favorite dinner, well for the next few weeks until I try some other combination or a new dish.  Don’t be afraid of risotto, I have a few tips to come out with perfect risotto without broken rice bits or it turning glugie and like oatmeal rather than a lovely creamy rice dish.  Once you get comfortable with the basic risotto you can add in anything you want in any combination you would like, it’s open to many possibilities.

The fundamental of risotto is simple.  Slowly cook the rice by adding a little bit of liquid at a time turning it into creamy happiness.  With the use of a second pan you save time by cooking the mushrooms and chicken with spices.  The amount of stock used in the rice will vary so in the recipe I give a range of cups to use.  I used two kinds of cheese, romano and parmesan.  I felt that the parmesan makes it too salty and the romano just perfectly balances it out, being a slightly milder hard cheese.  A great thing about this dish is it comes together in under 30 minutes.  You can have a hearty meal in no time, which is what most of us need.  You’re often tired by the time you get off work, you’ve battled traffic, and when you finally get home you don’t want to invest too much time in dinner. Want to spend that time in more productive ways, like making dessert?

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Banana Nut Loaf

Everyone has a banana bread recipe that they swear is ‘the best ever’ and it might be true.  However, I have yet to find one as good as this.  It’s simple, moist, tender, and very flavorful.  Until a few years ago I had no idea you could freeze bananas.  I know that sounds weird but once they went over ripe I used to throw them away.  One time my husband stopped me and was shocked at what I was doing.  He explained to me that you use frozen over-ripe bananas to make bread.  I looked at him like he was speaking another language.  Then thanks to the power of Google, I was shocked – he was right!

I had enough to make the bread and I was just ecstatic at how good it was. Really the best result was as simple was freezing the blackened over ripe bananas for future use.  Just add your rapidly-darkening extra bananas to the “banana shelf” in your freezer until you have enough to make a loaf of bread.  As the fruit defrosts, the water crystals that formed during the freeze break down the flesh into a syrupy mush.  You will notice the now defrosted fruit won’t hold its shape but if you snip off one tip you can squeeze it out like toothpaste. It is the ideal texture for the bread and has an intense banana flavor.  It’s so simple!  I really cannot believe it took so long for me to know this.

Now that the cold weather is upon us and I can turn on the oven without getting heat stroke, I had to make some.  It freezes very well and defrosts quickly.  I usually make up a batch and freeze the slices individually or as mini-loafs.  Then as we head out the door to work we grab a slice and by time I get to work to settle in with my coffee it’s defrosted and delicious.  This also saves me tons of money because I don’t have to buy it at Starbucks to go with my coffee.  They own enough of my soul already with their soy vanilla latte’s.  This is one of our regular favorites and easily adapts to a loaf, mini loaves, muffins, so have fun and enjoy!

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Polvorónes

Until recently I had no idea what a snickerdoodle was.  Thanks to the power of Google I found a recipe that had a high rating, and over 1,000 reviews of it on a site that had ‘all’ kinds of ‘recipes’.  I figured why not give it a try, and honestly I have never been more disappointed by a cookie in my life.  It was just so basic, it had no depth and the flavors were bland bland bland. To me it had no reason to have that many positive reviews.  I was determined to make it better.

I started thinking back to when my family would take road trips in the summer. During our trip we would always stop at this restaurant in Yakima, WA that had the best barbacoa tacos and these cookies!  Oh man these cookies were amazing!  We would get like a dozen of these heart-shaped cookies with a fine cinnamon and sugar-coating.  It was the texture that really made them stand out to me.   It is so rich and crumbly, yet very delicate.  It wasn’t really overly sweet and had a nutty flavor that still stands out to me.

It took a bit of research and trial and error.  Ok, mostly it was me swearing while I threw batches in the trash, but I finally had the perfect cookie!  When the winning batch came out of the oven I was so excited to share them with everyone, but mostly my husband who never had one.   He had only had snickerdoodles which I vow to never make those horrible little disks of fake flavor again.

It only took one bite of this cookie to take me right back to the long car trips to Colorado.  Me and my brother fighting over  who’s on who’s side while my mom drove and grandma sat in the passenger seat doing cross-word puzzles.  It made me happy and sad all at the same time, and made me realize that I miss my family.   I am going to keep these cookies as a tradition when I get a family to make and take on road trips, and when I finally get back out to Seattle, I am going to make these for my mom and brother.

Since I have gotten so used to doing all my recipes in metric now, I love it.   It makes them so much more consistent each time you make them, but also very easy to remember.  This cookie recipe I made to be very simple and easily halved or doubled easily.  I added both imperial and metric in the recipe.  That way you can decide which way to go, since it is just very minor differences that really are off by just grams.  I also of course used a heart shape cookie cutter because that is the shape they were when we would by them so that is more for nostalgia then anything.  You can use any cookie cutter you want, but the cookie should still be fairly thick.

I wish I could express to you how happy these cookies make me.  Because of the memories it brings with each flavorful bite, but how just great the recipe turned out.  If you like snickerdoodles, or just the flavor combination of cinnamon and sugar, make these.  Make them, make them right away.  They are better than any snickerdoodle you have ever had in your life, and you will never go back to your old recipe. Enjoy!

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Vanilla Bean Ice Cream & Dark Chocolate Sauce

I know you are thinking, “What!? Ice cream without a machine? You woman, are insane!” Ok so you’re not thinking that exactly but I am nothing if not eccentric and quirky. So, however true that may be, I might add that I have quite an affection for vanilla bean ice cream, and even though most of the store bought varieties are made with dried flavorless seeds that have had the flavor sucked out and are there for mostly looks.  I love to see the speckles of vanilla goodness.

If you have followed me for even just a bit or looked back at my posts, I have a chocolate ice cream that doesn’t require a machine.  Our tiny apartment has a kitchen the size of cubicle, i just cannot afford the space for an item that would get only seasonal use.   I found a chocolate no ice cream maker ice cream, and made it into a mocha and rocky road, now modified into vanilla ice cream happiness.

Originally I had bought ice cream to go with my tart tatin.  I picked up a brand that claimed to have only 5 ingredients.  Of course a first trial of a mini tarte tatin with the ice cream was good but really it tasted like iced milk with a cheap extract.  I was not happy with it at all and however good and just delicious that tarte was, the ice cream ruined it.  I was not going to be happy until I had it perfect – another fun little quirk about me, I can be a little pedantic.

So with my ever quick wit and ever-growing desire to do things my way, I took that recipe and made it into vanilla bean dream ice cream!  By infusing the beans of the two pods with the extract, it made such an intense vanilla flavor that is hands down the best damn vanilla ice cream I have had.   So here ya go, 4 ingredients to awesome vanilla ice cream (no machine required!) I have ever had.

Also, my home-made chocolate sauce!  Super easy just takes 10 minutes and lasts for 2-4 weeks sealed and refrigerated.

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