Tag Archives: cream cheese

Sweet Guava and Cream Cheese Spread

Early mornings at my grandparent’s house in Puerto Rico were extraordinarily beguiling and captivating.  My older sister, Cynthia, and I awoke every morning in the soft, white-cloud canopy of mosquito nets hung from hooks embedded in lofty ceilings.  In the drowsy world of being not quite awake, as we stirred, not yet aware of sights and sounds, we felt like brides…or princesses.  As we lay in our beds savoring the last vestiges of morning coolness, we took pleasure in the cooing of doves outside our windows.  The gentle swish, swish, swish of slippers against old floor tiles signaled the house was coming to life and someone, thank you God!, was making coffee.  Even as little girls we always drank coffee.  Everyone did.  I remember my mother laughing as she told me the story of my Tio Roberto and coffee.  Mama said my uncle was a young boy of maybe five or six years old when my grandfather found him somewhat wistful and down in the mouth.  Tio Roberto was my grandfather’s favorite boy and couldn’t bear to see him unhappy.  “Mi nene, pero que te pasa”?  “My son, what’s wrong?”  In a low voice my uncle answered, “Aye, Papa!  I hate school!” “But why?”, asked my grandfather.  Tio Roberto answered, “I miss my 10:00 cafe con leche.”  That cracks me up every time I think about it.  His father replied, “Well, you don’t have to go to school.  Stay home and have your cafecito as long as you want.”  Can you imagine saying that to your kindergartener? And so my uncle did.  Everyday my mother, aunts and uncles would pile into the coach to be driven to school while my Tio Roberto stayed home…alone…with no one to play with.  No brothers to go fishing or ride together.  No brothers to climb trees with or sisters to tease.  That had to be hell.  That lasted two or three days, he gave up his mid-morning coffee and back to school he happily went.

Breakfast in Puerto Rico was always modest and light.  Don’t get me wrong, it was always enjoyable but never heavy with pancakes and meat and cheesy casseroles.  Breakfast typically consisted of strong Puerto Rican coffee laced with steamed whole milk and a generous spoonful of island sugar.  Oh, but it was good!  Alongside jugs of ice-cold water, one at each end of the table, were baskets of crackers to be eaten with a little local cheese or butter.  And there was, without fail, fresh fruit.  Luscious wheels of deep, coral-red papaya or sweet, golden pineapple beautifully carved and laid out on platters would complete the meal.  But if we were really lucky we would be served guava paste or guava spread.  Guava and cream cheese spread is sublime offered firm and cold from the refrigerator or warm and runny having been freshly made.  These days it’s a beautiful addition not only at breakfast or brunch but also at cocktail hour.  The addition of the cream cheese and sour cream in the recipe lends the spread the perfect balance of sweet and savory.  It’s beautiful at a shower, picnic or pool party and lasts forever covered in the refrigerator.  Here in Florida guava paste may be found on the bread aisle at Winn-Dixie and on the canned fruit aisle at Publix.  If you can’t find it just ask.  And last, I buy the guava paste cryovaced in block form made by Goya.  Buen provecho!

Sweet Guava and Cream Cheese Spread

  • Servings: 5 cups
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

  • 14 ounces guava paste
  • 12 ounces cream cheese, softened
  • 1/2 cup sour cream
  1. Place guava paste in a medium size bowl and on high heat soften 30 second increment until there are still lumps but you are able to stir the paste.  You don’t want it to become liquid.
  2. Add the softened cream cheese and sour cream and stir until the mixture is smooth.
  3. Serve with crackers, biscotti or fruit.  For a thicker, firmer consistency, cover and chill for several hours.

http://www.theirreverentkitchen.com

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Double Strawberries and Cream Cheese in Puff Pastry

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When last Jim and I were in Paris we had the good fortune to meet several times with my extended family.  They entertained us as only Parisians can, in fine restaurants with lots of yummy champagne.  My cousins also rounded up the family who were in town for a Sunday afternoon reunion in the house of my father’s cousin, Marie Claire, where we spent the afternoon reminiscing  over days long past and laughing at our young foolishness, sipping champagne and nibbling on a gorgeous mirabelle plum tart made by my cousin Hubert’s wife, Anne.  Marie Claire’s apartment had been her sister, Francoise’, and that was where I began my first adventure in France oh, so many years ago.  Whenever I went to Paris I stayed with Francoise and having gone all over the city by foot I came to know her neighborhood of Neuilly-sur-Seine pretty well.  With Mama and without, I took the Metro to get around, and found the walk to the station and back to the apartment an absolute delight.  Magnificent  maple trees lined the streets leading to her house and, I have to tell you, I never felt prettier or happier than when I my feet hit those sidewalks.  I felt as though I was walking on air.  Francoise’ building was, and still is, magnificent.  The entrance hall was mahogany, the floor large black and white tiles whilst an antiquated brass elevator  waited at the right…or was it the on the left?  Regardless, it was there in all its creaky, rumbling glory.  However, if you chose not to wait, an exquisite caracol staircase was ready to take you to the second floor.  Although the elevator was majestic it was still a bit utilitarian so I always chose to take the staircase, resplendent with a dark ruby Persian runner held in place by old brass stair runners tacked into the well-worn mahogany steps,  stained obsidian and sunken in the middle by years of use.  And the apartment!  I remember some rooms being sea-green in color, enormous oils of our ancestors hung in heavy gold frames on most walls and the dining room and her generous bathroom completely beguiled me with its charming fireplace and mammoth, cast-iron claw-foot bathtub.  For me Francoise’ house was, and will always be, the height of luxury.  She introduced me to the French press for coffee, the beauty and pleasure of engraved calling cards, the importance of knowing how to read a map and the notion that a sterling porringer makes a fine ash tray.

Treasured bits from years past. Crazy about her calling card!
Treasured bits from years past. Crazy about her calling card!

Meals were small and only when necessary.  We were too busy to eat.  We left the flat early in the morning.   Most days Francoise went to her office where she wrote for various magazines while Mama and I were off to museums, shops and concerts, all possible by taking the Metro.  Towards the end of the day we met up for a glass of wine or champagne then back to the apartment to dress for dinner.  How I love that apartment and how special it was to be back in it with Hubert, Anne and their daughters and Grand-cousin, Marie Claire.  Still lovely and well-appointed with family pieces but now with bursts of life and color from the artwork of many grandchildren.  Merci encore, Marie Claire, pour un apres-midi splendide!

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This pastry is not only easy but dramatic in its presentation.  The puff pastry is store-bought and although it appears braided it is not.  Strips of dough are folded over and the end result is one good-looking dessert.  The dried and fresh berries compliment each other quite well, the dried berries mixed with cream cheese lend a creamy texture while the fresh give a juicy blast of flavor.

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Double Strawberry and Cream Cheese in Puff Pastry

  • Servings: 8-10
  • Difficulty: easy
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  • 12-14 fresh, ripe strawberries, sliced vertically 1/4″ in thickness
  • 1 tablespoon sugar, I like using vanilla sugar
  • 8 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
  • 1 1.2-ounce bag or 2 cups of freeze-dried strawberries, available at Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s
  • 1 1/4 cups confectioners’ sugar
  • 1/2 (that’s 1 sheet) of a 17.3 ounce box of puff pastry, thawed but kept in the refrigerator until needed
  • 1 egg beaten with 1 tablespoon of water
  1. Pre-heat oven to 400°.  Line baking sheet with parchment paper or tin foil.
  2. Toss the fresh strawberry slices with tablespoon of sugar and set aside to macerate.
  3. In a blender, mini-food processor or magic bullet process the freeze-dried strawberries until they are the texture of powder.
  4. In a small bowl mix the cream cheese until it becomes loose and easy to handle.
  5.  Add the strawberry powder and confectioners’ sugar to the cream cheese and stir until both are completely mixed together.
  6. Remove the sheet of puff pastry from the refrigerator and gently unfold on top of the baking sheet lined with parchment paper or tin foil.  Place the pastry so the fold marks run vertically.  The pastry will look like 3 equal rectangles attached together by the folds.
  7. Working as quickly as possible so the dough stays chilled, lightly roll out the dough so that it measures roughly 9 1/2″X 10 1/2″.
  8. Leaving the inside rectangle intact, make 1/2″ diagonal cuts into the two outside pastry rectangles.  Discard the 4 corners of the pastry.
  9. Spread the cream cheese mixture evenly down the center rectangle all the way to the cuts.  Mound the fresh berries on top of the cream cheese mixture evenly.
  10. Fold the top and bottom flap of dough over the berry filling.
  11. Fold the diagonal cuts over the berry mixture alternating left and right until the entire pastry is braided.  Tuck in any loose ends.
  12. Brush the pastry with the beaten egg.
  13. Bake pastry for 30-35 minutes or until golden.
  14. Allow to cool for 10 minutes before serving.

http://www.theirreverentkitchen.com

 

Silky Coconut Cream Cheese Flan

One of my favorite Christmas scents is alcohol breath at midnight Mass.  It’s almost tradition for grownups to show up lit up.  Consider this.   If one sits down to Christmas Eve dinner at 7:00pm and the meal is concluded at, say, 8:30pm…well, there’s quite a bit of time to get into trouble before sliding into your pew to hear a few carols before the service begins.  We started our tradition years ago.  And when I say “we” I mean Pamela, my little sister, and me.  Mama would have a Puerto Rican Christmas Eve dinner with many of the typical dishes shipped to us in dry ice.   Remember, Mama didn’t cook.  After a rich, heavy dinner we had to move so Pamela and I took off  and met our friends at Mai Kai, a famous Polynesian restaurant and bar here in town known for their island dancers and rum drinks.  It was great when Jimmy and I started dating because then we had a driver.  The three of us would have two or three barrels of  rum, (that was the name of the drink….lethal), and at 11:30 the three of us would stumble out of the bar and Jimmy would drive to church where Mama would be waiting for us.

I love out beautiful church, Saint Anthony. We've been parishioners over 55 years. Mama so loved our church.
I love our beautiful church, Saint Anthony. We’ve been parishioners over 55 years. Mama so loved our church!

Midnight Mass was always packed, standing room only, with all dressed in their holiday finery.  If we had a cold snap a few furs would be seen.  As we maneuvered through the crowd waving at friends and the parents of friends, our eyes scanned our beautiful church searching for Mom.  And then, suddenly, there she was soaking in the exquisite music of the choir.  The moment we laid eyes on her the ruckus began.  We thought we were whispering but apparently not.  “Mama!  MAH-MUH!!  I love you, Mama.”  Her mouth set in an angry line she’d make room for us in the pew.  By the time Mass ended we’d pretty much be forgiven but then Pamela always, always had to do cartwheels on the church’s front lawn.  Boy, did we catch heck all the way home.  “Your father and I have a name in this town!  Are you trying to ruin us?  Alicia, what are you thinking?  You’re supposed to set an example for your sister, caramba!”  Pamela and I laugh about it now but only because we truly believe Mama’s enjoying celestial, angelic music in Heaven.  Though we miss Mom so much we ache, we do wish her a merry, merry Christmas!

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One of the few dishes Mama made herself for Christmas Eve was flan.  It was a traditional flan, the flavored ones had not yet begun to appear.  This flan is silky smooth, redolent with the flavor of coconut and the more subtle notes of cream cheese.  What I really enjoy about it is it never has that “eggy” taste many flans have.  And since only coconut cream and milk are used there are no little flecks of grated coconut meat floating around in your mouth.  Bleah.  Most recipes call for a 10″ cake or round pan.  I used an 8″ round cake pan with 4″ tall sides.  If you use a pan smaller than 10″ make certain the sides are 4″-5″ tall.  This dish needs to be made in advance, yay!, in order to set and chill.  I’ve made it 2 days before serving and it’s perfection.  It is like nothing you’ve ever tasted.  My friend, Andrea, said it should be made illegal.  Or at least made every Christmas Eve!

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Coconut Cream Cheese Flan

  • Servings: 10-12
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 cup water
  • 16 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
  • 3 cups cream of coconut
  • 1 13.66-ounce can coconut milk
  • 10 large eggs
  1. Preheat oven to 325°.
  2. In a medium size pot pour the sugar and water and bring to a boil over medium high heat.  Do not stir! When it turns caramel in color pour into waiting baking pan.  Immediately rotate the pan so the caramel completely covers the bottom of the pan.  The caramel hardens quickly so move fast.  Set pan aside.
  3. Place cream cheese in a large bowl and using a hand mixer beat until fluffy.
  4. Add the cream of coconut to the cream cheese and mix well.
  5. Add the coconut milk to the cream cheese mixture and beat well until all ingredients are well incorporated. Set aside.
  6. In a medium size bowl break the eggs and, using a hand whisk, gently beat the eggs until the yolks and whites are thoroughly mixed.  You want to minimize the air bubbles so don’t use a hand mixer or blender.
  7. Pour the eggs into the cream cheese mixture and using the hand whisk blend well.
  8. Pour the cream cheese and egg mixture into the baking dish and place the filled baking dish into a larger baking pan, for instance a casserole dish.
  9. Heat some water to the boiling point and  carefully pour the water into the larger baking pan or casserole dish.  The water should reach 3/4 of the way up the sides of the flan pan.  In other words, you’re making a bain Marie.
  10. If using a 10″ pan bake for 1 hour or until the middle of the flan is “jiggly”.  For a taller 8″ pan bake for 2 hours.
  11. Remove from oven, place on a cooling rack and allow to cool to room temperature.
  12. Cover with plastic wrap directly onto flan and chill overnight up to 2 days.
  13. Right before serving remove plastic wrap, run a knife around the edge of the flan, cover the flan with your serving platter and quickly invert.  The flan should slide right out onto your platter.  If not, gently tap the platter on your counter or carefully shake the inverted pan.  Once a little air gets around the flan it’ll come right out with the melted caramel syrup.
  14. Spoon a bit of syrup over every slice prior to serving.

http://www.theirreverentkitchen.com

Sour Cream Banana Cake with Cream Cheese and Pineapple Icing topped with Grilled Pineapple

 

How disheartening and defeating is it when your own mother laughs then lightly dismisses your secret, chosen, dream profession?  I knew in my eight year old heart-of-hearts that I was meant to be a nun.  I had a serious girl crush on my Saint Anthony catechism teacher, the young and beautiful, hip Sister Cathy, and I was going to be just like her.  Down to her cream colored habit, I  too would have a glossy, black rosary swinging back and forth  from my waist as I quickly made my way to…. oh, I don’t know…. vespers?  And I would look just like Audrey Hepburn in “The Nun’s Story”.  Yes, I was ready to give my life up to our Lord and look good doing it.  So when Mama laughed in the kitchen and pooh-poo’d my top-secret confession I was astounded and overwhelmed.  How could Mama discount my desire so lightly?  Mama… who, my entire life, maintained we could do and be anything we wanted with hard work, perseverance and a few phone calls to the right people.  Straight away she understood my sincere sadness, that she had hurt my feelings and knelt down in front of me.  Cupping my face in her hands, she smiled and sweetly suggested, “Cielo, I know you love Sister Cathy.  Why don’t you bake her a cake?”.  I recall thinking, “Okay.  I can do that!”.  I had never baked a cake in my life but I thought of it as a simple undertaking, much like pouring a bowl of cereal or making a sandwich…I mean, how hard can baking a cake be?  I took down Mama’s one cookbook, The Joy of Cooking,  flipped over to cakes and began perusing.  I wanted a cake that was rich and it HAD to be exotic.  After all, if it was to be for Sister Cathy it had to be exceptional and flawless.  And I had found it.  Banana Cake.  In retrospect I probably decided upon that particular cake because while we never had chocolate in any form, we always had bananas.  We also lacked butter but that was easily replaced by the oleo margarine Mama used and although I had not the time nor the patience to let it soften to room temperature I felt certain that if I just beat the margarine harder the cake would be just fine.  For some unknown reason we had flour in the pantry and it truly is a small wonder as Mama never baked nor fried.  I quickly discounted the baking powder and baking soda called for in the recipe not knowing their purpose.  Besides, we didn’t have any.  We had plenty of eggs, milk and sugar and, quite frankly, I felt that was all that was needed.  And it was perfectly fine that we didn’t have measuring cups or spoons because at such a young age I didn’t know those things existed and, anyway, what difference could they make?  I used tea spoons,  soup spoons and Mama’s formal, china tea cups for measurement.  For those of you who don’t know, Mama didn’t know how to cook or bake but she could dress an exquisite table.  No. Cooking and baking were overrated in her world.  There was always someone to do that for her and if not, well, you either ate the charred, black food she had prepared or you went to bed hungry.  It’s your choice.  Not knowing any better,  ingredients which were to be at room temperature were incorporated ice cold.  Flour and sugar were not leveled and I didn’t feel the need to mix the ingredients in the suggested order.  They were all going to end up in the same pan, right?  I remember cold, pale blobs of margarine suspended in the weighted batter.  The recipe clearly stated to be gentle with the batter and only stir in the ingredients until they were just incorporated.  But how would I get rid of all the lumps if I didn’t beat it?  Arms flailing, I beat that batter until I no longer had life in my arm and into the oven it went.  In one pan.  Because we didn’t have cake pans.  We had one pan.  So although it was meant to be divided into layers it was baked in.one.pan.  “It’ll be fine.”,  I thought.  Clearly I had tired of that chore and only wanted to get my beautiful creation over to Sister Cathy.  The cake finally finished baking and although it smelled wonderful it was so dad gum heavy I could barely pull it out of the oven.  It had browned nicely but with no leavener never rose.  Breaking off a tough crumb I tasted it.  The cake was flat tasting…and kind of salty.  It was a disaster.  And I didn’t care.  Looked good, though, so maybe the inside was okay?  I’ll never know but I’m pretty certain that cake was an inedible, culinary catastrophe.  I couldn’t wait for it to cool; I had to see my girl crush.  I danced with excitement.  I knew this cake would open her eyes to the perfect miracle of ME and she would favor me above every other classmate.  Mama called the rectory or the convent at Saint Anthony and was told Sister Cathy was at the parish school taking advantage of Saturday hours, alone, doing busy work in her classroom.  Mama drove me over; the church and school  only minutes from our house.  I sat with the leaden cake in my lap, the hot plate slowly burning through to my thighs as I looked out the window and felt my shyness take over.  What if Sister Cathy didn’t like it?  What if she didn’t like ME?  Oh, those “what ifs”.  They have plagued me all my life.  Being the weekend, the school was deserted, Mama and I walked through the courtyard and  I called for my heroine.  It was hot, and muggy out, the plate was so darned heavy and the heat radiating from the cake had turned my small hands red.  Looking up to the second floor of the lovely Spanish style building I could see into her classroom but no Sister Cathy. I called and called as I liked but to no avail.  I put the cake on the ground.  I picked up a rock.  And then this tomboy whipped it at her classroom window.  Well, that got her attention!  Her window popped open and out came her head looking for the hoodlum, the rabble rouser who was throwing rocks.  Her angry face melted into a sweet smile when she saw it was me… just a student, a little girl.  “Sister Cathy!  I have something for you!”.  She hurried downstairs and met me outside.  She was so kind and gracious with me.  She pulled me close, her eyes sparkling, as I explained I had baked this cake for her…and no one else.  Earnestly I urged her to keep it for herself, not to share it with ANYONE!  Can you imagine?  Advising a nun not to share? Ha!  She probably took my advice as I imagine the cake probably tasted beyond awful.  Sister Cathy probably didn’t share it because it was inedible!  It didn’t occur to me to ice it.  Or follow the recipe.   Bleah.  But she knew I adored her.  All the girls and boys did.  I believe she was only in her mid to late 20’s but she had such grace and love for us all, far beyond her actual age.  She made us want to be the best little Catholics we could be.  And today, 50 plus years later, I am eternally grateful.  Wherever you are, Sister Cathy, we were blessed to have you!

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Like most baked goods containing bananas, this cake is best baked when the bananas are really ripe.  Certainly not rotten, but good and ripe; yellow with lots of little, dark speckles.  And, as with all cakes, the less you mix the batter, the lighter and more tender the final product.  The consistency of the icing depends on the moisture content of the pineapple.  I like a loose, somewhat runny icing so I pressed and pressed the juice out of the fruit through a sieve.  If you prefer a thicker, more dense icing then you would need to squeeze all the juice out through a clean, linen kitchen towel.  The excess juice may be frozen for future use.

Sour Cream Banana Cake with Pineapple Cream Cheese Icing

www.theirreverentkitchen.com

 

BANANA CAKE

yield: two 8-inch layers

  • 1/2 cup butter, room temperature
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 eggs, room temperature, lightly beaten
  • 1 cup sour cream
  • 2 medium sized ripe bananas, mashed
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 cups all purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  1. Pre-heat oven to 350°.
  2. Grease two 8-inch cake pans and set aside.
  3. Cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy, about 2-3 minutes, don’t over beat.
  4. Add eggs and mix until just combined.
  5. Add sour cream, mashed bananas and vanilla extract and mix until just combined.
  6. In a separate bowl mix all the dry ingredients then add to banana mixture mixing only until all the ingredients are well combined.
  7. Divide batter evenly between the prepared cake pans and bake in the middle of the oven for 25-30 minutes or until cakes pull away from the sides of the pans.
  8. Cool on rack 15 minutes, turn cakes out of pans and allow to cool completely on rack.
  9. Ice cakes.

PINEAPPLE ICING

  • 4 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
  • 2 tablespoons butter, room temperature
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 8 ounces crushed pineapple, all the moisture having been squeezed out
  • 5-6 cups confectioner’s sugar
  1. Beat butter and cream cheese until fluffy, about 2 minutes.
  2. Add vanilla and pineapple mixing until all ingredients are combined.
  3. Add 5 cups of sugar and mix.  Add additional sugar if a thicker icing is desired.

Sweet Filled Strawberries for our Sweet Bride

 

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The passage of time becomes more apparent when your children’s peers and their siblings begin to wed.  Ouch.  Admittedly there is a slight sting to getting older, but on the other hand, we have a wedding to celebrate!  Weddings and baptisms are such sunny, exhilarating events.  They are celebrations filled with the promise of hope and jubilation; of all-consuming love for another living soul and the unspoken word of honor, vow, that all gathered have pledged to others in their lifetimes.  Big wedding, small wedding it matters not.  They are all lovely and joyous.  This past weekend I took part in a wedding shower for a young lady who grew up in our neighborhood and went to the same schools as our son, James.  Katie’s’ brother was in James’ class beginning in Pre-K through high school.  Pre-K is where this group of students’ mothers met and forged a bond that, through the years, has withstood the tragedy of drugs, financial ruin and even death.  There were four core families, all Catholic with working mothers and fathers and more kids than you’d care to count.  We lived within a one mile radius of each other.  The boys all played T-ball up to high school together and the teams were coached by the  fathers.  What a time we had!  As parents we learned to prepare snacks for the kids AND hors d’oeuvre for the grownups.  Hot? Sweet baby Jesus, but it was hot at that ball park.  We started bringing our cocktails in insulated coffee mugs then graduated to large beverage coolers filled with OUR version of jungle juice, hooch, grain punch…bad girl punch.  The poor coaches were out on the 100° field and dugout and never got any.  And though it was hot as blue blazes up on those rickety bleachers we parents laughed, caught up with one another and cheered all the boys on.  And yes, we got tanked.  Back then that was what Saturday afternoons were for.  After a few Solo cups full of “juice” no one cared about the steady stream of perspiration flowing from the top of their backbone down to their fanny!  Katie’s father, Bob, one of the coaches, would take a big, old boom box and crank out baseball tunes between innings.  Sometimes we sang.  We had a blast!  The coaches encouraged all the Little Leaguers, lifted them up and boosted their self-confidence even when mistakes were made.  The boys adored their coaches.  Never was there a happier group of people.  We always gathered to pre-party and post-party when there were evening functions at school.  Friday nights we’d potluck it, each family contributing to the meal.  When school let out for summer we formed the 601 Club.  Again, each family would contribute a dish or appetizer, sometimes booze, and we’d meet at the beach, across from Bahia Mar, at the grills, by the swings.  We named it the 6-oh-one club when it was discovered that after 6p.m. parking was free on the beach.  Our caravan pulled into the parking lot every Friday evening during summer.  If it’s free sign me up!  Whoever arrived first claimed two or three tables and a grill or two.  The children ran and screamed in the waves.  Often several of the children would build entire villages filled with sand castles.  There was always an adult tossing a football, sipping beer or wine by a grill sizzling with burgers and dogs or passing out chips and salsa.  All of us so appreciated and savored those enchanting evenings.  There’s just something about the beach at night.  The smell of salt water and the sound of the waves rolling in coupled with the moon transforming into a colossal pearl, its reflection shimmering away on the inky water is positively mesmerizing.

My favorite photo of Fort Lauderdale beach at night.
My favorite photo of Fort Lauderdale beach at night.

The stresses of the week melted away as we slowly loosened up and let our hair down.  This is where I discovered the miraculous world of frozen Whiskey Sours.  One of the core moms, Harriet, showed up with a cask full of them and changed our lives completely.  She’s from New Orleans and is accustomed to novel and exotic libations.  We were nothing short of enthralled.  If she gives me the recipe I’ll post it.  Well, the years went by and yes, to a certain extent, we grew apart as our kid’s interests evolved, new friends were made, the children graduated and went on to college.  Every now and again we’d run into each other, usually at the grocery store or Mass, but it wasn’t often.  This past weekend though, we were reunited.

L-R Suzanne, Julie, Katie, Harriet and me
L-R Suzanne, Julie, Katie, Harriet and me

If only for three or four hours the four core moms…Julie (who hails from the Keys and is mother of the bride), Suzanne (matriarch of FOUR darling boys and one spectacular girl), Harriet (Southern girl extraordinaire who single-handedly raised three incredibly gifted children after unexpectedly losing her husband years ago), and me (you know all about me, I think), were together again.  What joy!  What bliss!  Yes, there were a few misty eyes every now and again, but way more high-pitched shrieks and good-natured laughter, whispered gossip from scandals past and, more than anything, hugs.  Lots of hugs.  We just couldn’t get enough of each other.  Thankfully all our children are happy well-adjusted young adults, each up and coming in their chosen field and blazing their own trails.  The bride-to-be glowed all afternoon and I believe her shower guests took delight in the festivities and got a kick out of us “older ladies”.  I am so pleased and grateful I was included.  One of my contributions to the party was this little pick-up.  Ruby colored fresh strawberries, hulled and filled with sweetened cream cheese.  They’re lovely, easy and luscious.  In fact, this is one of the dishes I served at Suzanne’s baby shower when she was pregnant with Madeline.  It’s a classic.  One tablespoon of orange flavored Gran Marnier is wonderful in place of vanilla.  Feel free to experiment with flavors.  The filled berries I took to Katie’s shower were topped with toasted almond slices but fresh mint leaves also marry well with the fruit.  Keep in mind this dish is absurdly easy but it’s best not assembled more than two to three hours prior to serving or your berries will become soggy.

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Sweet Filled Strawberries

  • Servings: 1 quart
  • Difficulty: easy
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  • 1 quart fresh strawberries, rinsed, dried and hulled
  • 8 ounces cream cheese, room temperature, reduced fat may be used, (I use it all the time)
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract OR 1 tablespoon Gran Marnier or other liquor
  • 1/4 cup confectioner’s sugar
  • 1/2 cup sliced, toasted (toast 3-5 minutes at 350°)

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  1. With a paring knife, trim a small piece off of the bottom of each berry so they stand straight up when served.  Set aside.
  2. In a small bowl whip cream cheese until light and fluffy.  If using a hand mixer beat 2-3 minutes.
  3. Add vanilla or liquor and confectioner’s sugar to cream cheese and mix until well combined.
  4. Transfer the cream cheese mixture to a corner of a gallon freezer bag.  This will be your piping bag so use a heavy, freezer weight to avoid having the bag pop or break on you.
  5. With sharp scissors cut the tip (cut the size of a piece of confetti) off of the corner of the bag filled with the cream cheese mixture.
  6. With the cut tip placed down in the berry squeeze the cream cheese into the strawberry until the mixture brims over the top of the berry.
  7. Top each berry with fresh mint leaves or sliced toasted almonds.
  8. Chill until serving.  Serve within a few hours.

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Make Ahead For Easter – Guava Cream Cheese Flan, yeah baby!

IMG_8722_1024 In the days before Easter Mama always prepared one of her two signature dishes, flan.  Hers was always beyond perfection.  There were never any offensive bubble holes and, without fail, a generous amount of caramelized syrup.  I’ve told y’all before…that woman could.not.cook.  Dinners were a consistent disaster, everything was burned to a charcoal briquet level on one side.  Her solution to that problem?  Serve the dinner burn side down and no one will ever know.  That, coupled with the fact that my little sister Pamela knocked her glass of milk over just about every night, made for stressful dinners round our dining room table.  Mama just wasn’t into eating or cooking and assumed everyone else felt the same way.  But her Sunday roasts and flans were spectacular triumphs.  The dessert was always the traditional egg, milk and vanilla flan, her mother’s recipe.  In recent years many have ventured into additional flavors such as mango, coconut, guava and other Caribbean tastes.  Mama stuck with what she knew.  I find a guava cream cheese flan is easier due to the changed instructions.  For my mother’s traditional version the eggs are beaten until smooth but as lightly as possible so as not to create unsightly holes when the custard is baked.  Whereas a flan with cream cheese can be made in a food processor or blender.  The addition of the fruit and cream cheese produces a dessert much denser, almost a cheesecake in texture, and no holes.  It’s rich and creamy, just perfect for a holiday.  The fact that it needs serious chilling time in the refrigerator makes for a splendid do-ahead last course. IMG_8734_1024

 

Guava Cream Cheese Flan

  • Servings: 8-10
  • Difficulty: easy
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  • 2 cups sugar, divided
  • 1 12-ounce can evaporated milk
  • 1 8-ounce block cream cheese, room temperature
  • 1 14-ounce pack guava paste, cut into pieces
  • 5 eggs
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
Love having fresh guavas in the kitchen. Their perfume is positively heady!
Love having fresh guavas in the kitchen. Their perfume is positively heady!
  1. Preheat oven to 350°.
  2. To a food processor or blender, I think the blender works best, add 1 cup sugar, milk, cream cheese and guava paste.  Blend until smooth.  Add the eggs, vanilla and salt and pulse until the eggs are completely broken up and incorporated into the cream cheese mixture.
  3. Heat 1 cup of sugar in 10″ round cake pan melting slowly over medium heat.  Do not stir as that will create sugar crystals and you want a smooth syrup.  Gently swirl the melted sugar, covering the bottom and sides, until the syrup turns a golden brown.
  4. Place round cake pan in a bain marie, a bain marie being a pan with hot water for slow, even cooking.  The water in  the bain marie should come up about 3/4 of the side of the cake pan.
  5. Bake for about 50 minutes then remove from oven.  Cool in bain marie.  The flan will continue cooking in the hot water.
  6. When completely cool remove cake pan from water, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight or at least 8 hours.  I chill mine overnight and often a couple of days in advance of serving.
  7. When ready to serve have a serving dish or platter with a good-sized lip to catch the syrup that WILL come flying out.  Holding the flan with one hand use the other hand to firmly rap the sides of the custard loosening it.  You’ll see the flan come away from the sides of the baking pan.  Cover the top of the flan with the platter and over your sink QUICKLY invert the custard.  The flan should flop right onto the platter followed by the syrup.  If you’re not accustomed to doing this, the transfer from baking pan to serving platter can be done hours in advance when you’re not pressed for time and no one is watching.  Cover the flan with plastic wrap and place back in the refrigerator to stay cool until ready to serve.

Self-Rising Flour…my BFF forever for Cream Cheese Biscuit Bites

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I’m a fool for carbs.  One could easily call me a carb slut.  Really.  And at Thanksgiving and Christmas they’re not lurking around the corner.  They are EVERYWHERE and, for some reason, at this time of year they’re even better than usual.  I know many of you aren’t comfortable baking but this recipe for Mini Savory Biscuit is absolutely, positively, without a doubt foolproof.  Word of honor.  A good self-rising flour will change your life completely.  I’m partial to White Lily.  So many of those gorgeous recipes you see on Pinterest are made with self-rising as is this one.  These biscuit melt in your mouth with or without gravy, butter, maple syrup or cranberry sauce.  And they only call for a handful of ingredients.  They’re drop biscuit so there’s no rolling out.  How’s THAT for feeling secure? I’m telling ya.  Self-rising flour is on your side! You have to have some sort of bread on the table during the holidays and these fit the bill.  You can easily split them and slather them with dulce de leche.  Straight out the oven they beg for a slow drizzle of honey.  And you can add seasonings to the batter to make them savory.  Doesn’t splitting a piping hot, savory biscuit in half and tucking in a sliver of baked ham sound like just what the doctor ordered on Black Friday after shopping since 1 a.m.?  Hell, yeah.  And the batter can sit in your refrigerator for three days so you can bake these off in a flash whenever you need them.  They’re so small they’re almost like poppers.  And they’re highly addictive so watch out!  But I’ve used today a reduced fat cream cheese and they’re STILL melt in your mouth good.  Experiment with them and add to the batter which ever seasonings make you happy.  Add chives or red pepper flakes.  (Btw, red pepper flakes and honey go REALLY well together!)  Freshly cracked black pepper or Cajun seasoning.  Knock yourselves out.  I know I do!  Chop and roast a handful of pecans and throw those bad boys into the batter.  You know it’ll be good.  Keep in mind this recipe yields 2 dozen BITE SIZE biscuit.  I ate (four) just waiting for them to cool off.  So make a lot!! Fair warning!!  A few moments ago I learned that two of my nieces, Annie and Meggie (AKA the Tinies) are spending the night tonight.  They’re runners, cross-country, and coming back from States where their school did extremely well.  Annie didn’t run because as a high school freshman she’s JV but Meg is Varsity, she did run and came in 4th!  Anyway, they’re spending the night and I thought I’d serve these little magic biscuit tomorrow for breakfast with homemade sausage gravy and freshly sliced blood oranges with fresh pineapple and strawberries.  They’re VERY girly-girl so they’ll appreciate pretty fruit.  I’m so pleased!! It’s a slumber party!!

Annie and Meggie, the Tinies, with their beloved Uncle Jimmy when they truly WERE tiny!
Annie and Meggie, the Tinies, with their beloved Uncle Jimmy when they truly WERE tiny!   

 

Cream Cheese Biscuit Bites

  • Servings: 2 dozen bite size biscuit
  • Difficulty: easy
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Preheat oven to 400°.

  • 1 8-ounce package cream cheese, softened
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) margarine or shortening, softened
  • 1 cup self-rising flour
  • 1 teaspoon herb of provence (optional)
  • 1 teaspoon freshly cracked black pepper (optional)
  1. With a hand mixer beat cream cheese and margarine until completely blended and smooth.
  2. Add herbs to flour and mix well.
  3. Add flour to margarine and stir gently until just blended.
  4. At this point the dough may be covered and refrigerated for up to three days.  Otherwise, continue on!
  5. Spoon dough into mini-muffin tins and divide evenly.
  6. Bake for 19 minutes or until golden brown.  Serve immediately.

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