Highland Springs Ranch Lavender Cheesecake

lavenderbannerEvery year, for about 5 weeks, at the Highland Springs Ranch in Cherry Valley, California, one of the best smelling, and best tasting, festivals takes place on the largest organic lavender farm in Southern California.

During the Annual Lavender Celebration, guests can tour 20 acres of the grounds in hay filled, horse drawn wagons sipping on lavender lemonade or licking creamy lavender ice cream cones.  There’s an organic marketplace to buy lavender infused honey, balsamic vinegar, essential oils, fresh lavender bouquets, plants and even lavender-stuffed toys.  There’s an oil distilling demonstration and plenty of fun activities for the kids, but, more than anything, it’s the food people come to sample.

Although The Ranch Restaurant closed in 2018, my favorite festival treat is still their Lavender Cheesecake with a crust made from homemade graham crackers.  It’s #ToDieFor but it takes some time to prepare (much of which is chilling time), so don’t plan to make this as a last minute treat.  Thanks to Betsy Andrews at Eating Well Magazine, I can make this treat at home anytime I want to!

Highland Springs Ranch Lavender Cheesecake

  • 6 TBLS Unsalted Butter, softenedHSRanchLavenderCheesecake
  • 2 TBLS Light Brown Sugar
  • 2 TBLS Granulated Sugar
  • 2 TBLS Honey
  • 1/4 tsp Vanilla Extract
  • 1+1/4 Cups Whole Wheat Flour
  • 1/4 tsp Salt
  • 1+1/2 TBLS Light Olive Oil or Canola Oil
  1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper
  2. Combine butter, brown sugar and 2 tablespoons granulated sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer. Beat with the paddle attachment until smooth. Add honey and ¼ teaspoon vanilla; mix until combined. Add flour and ¼ teaspoon salt; mix until combined. Form the dough into quarter-size chunks, about ½-inch thick, on the prepared pan. Bake until golden brown and firm around the edges, about 20 minutes.
  3. Transfer the crust pieces on the parchment to a wire rack and cool for 30 minutes. Pulse in a food processor until finely ground
  4. Coat a 9-inch springform pan with cooking spray. Mix the crust crumbs with oil in a medium bowl; press into the bottom and about 1½ inches up the sides of the prepared pan. Bake until set, about 8 minutes. Let cool on a wire rack.

For the filling:

  • 3 – 8 ounce packages reduced fat cream cheese, at room temperature
  • 2/3 Cup Granulated Sugar
  • 1 TBLS Ground Lavender
  • 1/8 tsp Salt
  • 4 Large Eggs, room temperature
  • 1 TBLS Lemon Juice
  • 1 tsp Vanilla Extract
  1. To prepare filling: Put a tea kettle of water on to boil for the water bath. Combine cream cheese, sugar, lavender and salt in the stand mixer bowl. Beat with the paddle attachment until smooth and fluffy, scraping down the sides as needed. Add eggs, one at a time, mixing and scraping the bowl after each addition. Add lemon juice and vanilla; mix until combined.
  2. Tightly wrap the outside of the pan, bottom and sides, with heavy-duty foil. Pour the filling into the crust. Place the springform pan in a roasting pan and pour in enough boiling water to come 1 inch up the side of the springform pan to create a hot water bath. Carefully transfer the roasting pan to the center of the oven. Bake until the cheesecake is set around the edges but the center still jiggles slightly, 1 to 1¼ hours.
  3. Let the cheesecake cool in the water bath on a wire rack until the water is room temperature, about 1 hour. Remove the pan from the water and remove the foil. Refrigerate, uncovered, until very cold, at least 4 hours.

This cheesecake can be made ahead and kept very cold for 3 days.  #ThisGirlLovesToEat

Turkey Day Prep: Chunky Bacon Creamed Spinach

SpinachThis is the recipe made famous by the Southern California prime rib institution, Gulliver’s, with the barest of modifications to take away the baby food consistency and make it meatier.  There is also a seamless modification to make this a perfect Keto side dish.

Chunky Bacon Creamed Spinach

  • 2 – 16 oz packages frozen chopped spinach
  • 12 pieces thick cut bacon (Usually a 12 oz pkg) I buy from the butcher so it may be more than 12 oz
  • 3 cups milk (I recommend whole milk)
  • 1/2 onion chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic chopped (1 1/2 tsp if jarred minced garlic)
  • 1/2 tsp ground pepper
  • 2/3 cup all purpose flour  (for Keto use 1/3 cup almond flour)

Thaw spinach and squeeze as much liquid out as possible.

Cut bacon into about 1″ pieces and cook in a large saucepan or medium dutch oven on the stove top over medium heat until it’s brown but not yet crispy.  You want as much fat to render as possible so it’s not too chewy. Using tongs, remove the bacon to a plate lined with paper towel.

Add onion and garlic to the pan and cook until onions are soft and translucent, about 5 minutes.  While onions are cooking, microwave your milk on high for 4 minutes.  Stir in pepper and flour, stirring continuously for about 2 minutes.

TIP: Pre-packaged bacon tends to be fattier, so you’ll have more grease and a better roux.  You may need to add a little butter (olive oil if you used almond flour) to the pan to give your mixture a better consistency if it’s too dry, if you used bacon with less visible fat.  If your bacon gave off more grease than whichever flour you used could absorb, add more a teaspoon at a time, thoroughly stirring in between additions until your roux is holding together and not too wet or dry.

Add milk and whip until smooth. TIP: If you don’t like the consistency of your almond flour, at this point you can use your immersion blender to smooth everything out, including the onions and garlic.

Stir and cook another 2 minutes, or until a slow boil starts.  Add bacon back in, then add spinach  Cook for another 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Remove from heat.  TIP: I like the creaminess of adding an additional 1/4 cup of heavy cream when it’s done cooking, but before the next. step, especially if you are doing the Keto version.  Cover top with 1/2 cup melted butter and lid until ready to serve.  If you can make this the day before, it is one of those dishes that gets better the longer it sits in the refrigerator.  Just warm it up slowly in the oven.  #ThisGirlLovesToEat

Goodnight Charlie’s Hot Chicken Tacos

Food & Wine June 2018 Travel: Honky Tonk/ David Keck Hot Chicken TacosOnce he achieved the wine world’s most coveted initials behind his name, M.S. (Master Sommelier), instead of heading off to some five-star fancy pants restaurant to show the upwardly mobile out to impress their friends, or those with more money than sense, his incredible wine knowledge, Jeff Keck opened up a HONKY TONK, yes, a Honky Tonk in Houston!  That doesn’t mean he’s stepped away from his love of wine, indeed, far from it.

While getting his other wine-themed businesses and restaurants off the ground nearby, Goodnight Charlie’s serves up gourmet Texas fare with lots of Bourbon, Beer, Vodka, and davidkeckfelipericcioyes, some wine too.  There’s even a #RhinestoneCowboySpecial – a bottle of tête de cuvée Champagne and 12 tacos, prepared by his business partner, and chef, Felipe Riccio.  As the recipe below shows, they’re far from your run-of-the-mill street tacos.  I love Nashville Hot Chicken, so these should be right up my alley! #ThisGirlLovesToEat

Goodnight Charlie’s Hot Chicken Tacos

Chicken

  • 6 cups warm water
  • 3/4 cup light brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup plus 5 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt, divided
  • 1 1/2 pound boneless, skinless chicken thighs, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
  • 3 1/2 cups cornstarch
  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour (about 6 3/8 ounces)
  • 5 tablespoons chili powder
  • 2 tablespoons coarse yellow cornmeal
  • 2 tablespoons onion powder
  • 2 tablespoons garlic powder
  • 2 cups whole buttermilk

Stir together 6 cups warm water, sugar, and 1/2 cup salt in a large, lidded container until dissolved. Let cool. Place chicken in brine; cover and chill 8 hours.

Drain chicken, and discard brine. Whisk together cornstarch, flour, chili powder, cornmeal, onion powder, garlic powder, and 4 teaspoons salt in a large bowl. Place buttermilk in a separate bowl. Working in small batches, dredge chicken pieces in cornstarch mixture, dip in buttermilk, and dredge again in cornstarch mixture. Place coated chicken pieces in a fine wire-mesh strainer, and shake off excess flour mixture. Place chicken in a single layer on 2 wire racks on rimmed baking sheets, and let stand 15 minutes.

Spiced Oil

  • 1 tablespoon cayenne pepper
  • 1 tablespoon light brown sugar
  • 2 teaspoons onion powder
  • 2 teaspoons garlic powder
  • 1 cup grape seed oil, plus more for frying

Stir together cayenne, brown sugar, onion powder, and garlic powder in a small bowl. Heat 1 cup grapeseed oil in a medium skillet over medium-high until hot, about 4 minutes. Remove from heat, and add spice mixture to oil, stirring to combine. Let cool 10 minutes. Transfer to a large heatproof bowl.

Preheat oven to 200°F. Heat 1 inch of grape seed oil in a large, heavy, high-sided skillet over medium-high to 360°F. Working in 3 batches, fry chicken, turning occasionally, until crispy and cooked through, 4 to 5 minutes.

Transfer to bowl with spiced oil; toss to coat. Lift chicken from bowl; place on a wire rack set in a rimmed baking sheet. Sprinkle with 1/2 teaspoon salt. Transfer baking sheet to preheated oven to keep warm. Repeat procedure 2 times with remaining chicken and remaining 1 teaspoon salt.

Braised Greens

  • 4 ounces fresh Mexican Chorizo, casings removed
  • 1 cup chopped yellow onion
  • 2 tablespoons diced jalapeño
  • 1 (12-ounce) bunch collard greens, stemmed and cut into 1 1/2-inch pieces
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar

Place Chorizo, onion, and jalapeño in a large skillet over medium. Cook, stirring occasionally, until Chorizo is crumbled and browned and onions are softened, 8 to 10 minutes. Add greens and 1 teaspoon salt; cover and cook until tender, 3 to 4 minutes, stirring once halfway through. Stir in vinegar. Remove from heat.

Additional Ingredients

  • 24 (6-inch) yellow corn tortillas, warmed
  • 1 1/2 cups chopped bread-and-butter pickle chips

Divide braised greens and fried chicken among warm tortillas. Top with pickles.

Serve alongside a couple of ice cold beers, or, if you’re feeling fancy, do it #GoodnightCharliesStyle and pop open a bottle of Champagne. #GirlsGoneWine

Lowcountry Shrimp & Grits

I am a Southern girl at heart.  My dad’s family is from Alabama and just about everything I love leans that direction, food & otherwise.  If you want to make this girl smile, the word “grits” is one sure way to do it!

Lowcountry shrimp and grits

Shrimp and Grits is a tried and true dish that is hard to screw up as long as you remember a few simple things:

  1. Your shrimp should be firm and unblemished with no fishy odors;
  2. Keep your shrimp chilled in their shells until just before they hit the pan;
  3. NEVER use instant grits – the real thing take only a few more minutes to boil and the end result makes all the difference to your dish;
  4. Grits love salt, pepper, and butter, so season them well;
  5. Make sure the grits are ready to serve and that all of the ingredients are prepped and ready to go before you start the shrimp topping, which takes only 3 minutes from start to finish.

This recipe is from Hominy Grill in Charleston, South Carolina and was featured in an article in Coastal Living Magazine.

CHEESE GRITS

  • 4 1/2 cup water
  • 1 cup stoneground grits
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 3/4 cup grated sharp cheddar cheese
  • 1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon Tabasco, or to taste

SHRIMP

  • 3 bacon strips, chopped
  • Peanut oil, as needed
  • 1 pound extra-large shrimp, peeled and deveined
  • 2 tablespoons flour
  • 4 ounces sliced mushroom (1 1/4 cups)
  • 1 large garlic clove, minced
  • 2 teaspoons lemon juice
  • 1/2 teaspoon Tabasco, or to taste
  • 1/4 cup thinly sliced green onions, plus more for garnish

Prepare the Grits: Bring 4 1/2 cups of water to a boil in a large saucepan over high heat. Whisk in the grits and salt, reduce heat to low, and cook at a gently simmer for 35 to 40 minutes or until the grits are thick, stirring occasionally. Stir more often as the grits thicken. Remove the pan from the heat, add the cheddar, Parmesan, butter, pepper, and Tabasco, and stir until smooth. Taste and adjust the seasoning. Keep warm over very low heat.

Shrimp: In a medium skillet over medium-high heat, cook the bacon for 6 minutes or until crisp, stirring occasionally. Transfer with a slotted spoon to drain on paper towels and leave the fat in the skillet. If there is less than 1 1/2 tablespoons of bacon fat, make up the difference with peanut oil.

Toss the shrimp with the flour until lightly coated, shaking off any excess. In the skillet with the reserved fat, cook the shrimp over medium-high heat for 1 minute or until they begin to turn pink. Add the mushrooms and bacon and cook for 1 minute. Add the garlic and cook, stirring, for 30 seconds (do not let the garlic brown). Stir in the hot sauce, lemon juice, and scallions and remove from the heat. Divide the grits among 4 shallow bowls and top with the shrimp mixture. Garnish with additional scallions and serve at once.

Serve alongside an ice cold beer and with some crusty bread! #ThisGirlLovesToEat

 

Houston’s Hawaiian Rib-Eye

Someone at Bon Appétit was able to sweet talk the people in charge of the vault of recipes for some of the most ordered favorites at Hillstone’s (Houston’s Steakhouse) and I couldn’t be more excited!

One of my favorite items on the Houston’s menu is the Hawaiian Rib-Eye Steak.  It’s obviously one of their most popular items as well, since it it the featured photo on their website!  It’s juicy, full of flavor and hits the table with a hint of sizzle from the grill. What more could anyone ask for? #ThisGirlLovesToEat

hawaiian-rib-eye-steak

Houston’s Hawaiian Rib-Eye Steak (Serves 4)

Steak

  • 2 cups pineapple juice
  • ½ cup soy sauce
  • ½ cup sugar
  • 5 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
  • 2 teaspoons toasted sesame oil
  • ⅓ cup chopped white onion
  • 1 – 1-inch piece ginger, peeled, finely chopped
  • 2 – 1-inch-thick bone-in rib-eye steaks (about 3 pounds total)
  1. Whisk pineapple juice, soy sauce, sugar, vinegar, and oil in a small bowl until sugar is dissolved.  Add onion and ginger.
  2. Set aside 2 Tbsp. marinade for butter.
  3. Transfer remaining marinade to a large resealable plastic bag. Add steaks and seal bag, pressing out excess air. Chill at least 1 day.
  4. Remove steaks from marinade, pat dry, and let sit until room temperature, about 1 hour.

Do Ahead: Steaks can be marinated 3 days ahead. Keep chilled.

Butter

  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 2 teaspoons toasted sesame oil
  • Kosher salt
  1. Whisk butter and oil in a medium bowl to combine. Vigorously whisk in reserved marinade; season with salt.
  2. Transfer to the center of a sheet of parchment paper and roll up into a log. Chill until firm, at least 1 hour.

Do Ahead: Butter can be made 3 days ahead. Keep chilled.

Preparation

  1. Build a two-zone fire in a charcoal grill for direct (medium-high coals) and indirect (medium-low coals) heat.  Alternatively, heat a gas grill to high just before cooking, leaving one burner on low.
  2. Season steaks very lightly with salt (omit this step if marinating more than 24 hours).
  3. Grill over high heat, turning, until steaks are well browned and beginning to char around edges, about 4 minutes.
  4. Transfer to cooler part of grill and continue to cook until an instant-read thermometer inserted into thickest part of steaks registers 120° for medium-rare. (Alternatively, cook in a grill pan over medium-high heat, turning steaks every couple of minutes.)
  5. Transfer steaks to a wire rack.
  6. Slice butter into ¼”-thick rounds and divide between steaks.
  7. Let rest at least 10 minutes before slicing.

Serve alongside a baked sweet potato with a pat of butter & a dusting of cinnamon and sugar (or a splash of maple syrup) and a simple mixed green salad.

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