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I currently live in Charlotte, NC and after spending 7 years as a personal chef and caterer, I am now happy to share my love of cooking with friends and family. My heart is in the kitchen, but my soul is in the stars!

That thing called life



 Life is a funny thing.
 
One minute you are on top of the world and realize that you’ve had it really good for quite some time and you are so thankful for that.  But in the back of your mind, you secretly know that at some point you are going to have to pay a price for the good times.  Something is bound to happen to knock the goodness right out of your life. 

And sure enough a funny thing happens.  Life just sucks the life right out of you. 

I started losing my voice here at Wish Upon A Chef when my mother was diagnosed with cancer in September 2013.  Thankfully, so thankfully, she is in remission and on the mend.  My voice continued to dwindle after the loss on Super Bowl Sunday 2014 of my 4-legged companion, Jesse James.  And my voice was completely knocked out when my best friend and boyfriend of several years announced that we could no longer function in a relationship together because he was so overcome by the loss and love of someone who passed from his life 8 years ago. 

I had nothing left to say.  It seemed frivolous to snap a photo, share a recipe and talk about how delicious my dinner was or talk about how great my batch of cookies turned out.  And the truth of the matter is that I’ve been eating like crap for quite some time.  Definitely nothing worth mentioning on a food blog!

Life ain’t always a bed of roses and I can no longer pretend that it is.  This blog initially started years ago to keep me accountable for things that were going wrong in my life at the time and it’s time to turn to it again for the same accountability.  I’ll never find my voice again if I don’t make an attempt through the things that I find therapeutic – cooking, writing and gardening. 

My life needs to start simply and work its way to the top again.  So today I am sharing this simple recipe for wine syrup that I made a few weeks ago.  I was very proud of my accomplishment of getting back into the kitchen and simply mixing liquid and sugar and simmering it into goodness – it was a starting point.  The syrup was delicious served over pound cake and fresh strawberries and added a decadent touch to real vanilla bean ice cream.  I’ve even drizzled it over a salad with a splash of balsamic vinegar.  How great would this be on morning pancakes or waffles?

Any red wine will do, even one of the inexpensive ones.  I used a bottle that had been opened for a tasting at work and was destined to be poured down the drain until I saved it.  I work for a wine distributor and see this tragic event happen often so I’ve made it my life’s mission to rescue abandoned wine. 

Enjoy the simple things in life and never ever take them for granted!



Wine Syrup
Makes about 1 cup

1 cup sugar
1 vanilla bean, split
3 cups red wine

Combine all ingredients in a saucepan and bring to a boil.  Reduce heat and simmer, stirring occasionally, about 30-45 minutes or until liquid has reduced to about 1 cup.

Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator. 


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This is what you just put in your mouth?

If you are looking for an interesting read about ingredients found in food and some everyday household products, This Is What You Just Put In Your Mouth by Patrick Di Justo provides an in-depth look. 


This book contains reprints of Justo's weekly articles as they originally appeared in Wired magazine from 2006-2013.  The articles began out of curiosity about what was in certain foods and products that are commonly used.  Some of the things won't surprise or gross you out, but knowing some of the things may make you think twice.

It is light reading in the sense that you wouldn't just sit down and read the book from cover to cover in one or two sittings, but rather thumb through and read a few pages at a time.  It can make for interesting conversation as you're sitting around with friends enjoying drinks before dinner. "Hey!  Did you know that Vita Coco coconut water that you are drinking contains Gibberellins?"  Or maybe during dessert when you inform everyone that the Cool Whip they just dolloped on their piece of pie contains sex grease!

The book really makes you stop to think about how many corporations and companies are not very forthcoming with information when it comes to ingredients and production of their product.  And these are products that we eat, that touch our skin, or that we come into contact with on some level.  It pays to research products and companies if you are concerned about your health and well-being! 

 I received this book free to review from Blogging for Books. The opinions expressed in this review are my true thoughts and feeling regarding this book. I am disclosing this information in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255.

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This is your brain. This is your brain on real food.


Do you ever have one of those moments where you walk into a room and have no idea why?  Or maybe you totally forget what you're talking about in mid-sentence? 

Yeah, me too.  And if it's happening to me at the ripe old age of 40 too many, how bad will it be in 10, 15, or 20 years? 

Que The Healthy Mind Cookbook by Rebecca Katz with Mat Edelson.  I couldn't get my hands on this book with 120 recipes to "enhance brain function, mood, memory, and mental clarity" fast enough. 

Along with recipes, photos and a lot of food and brain related research, The Healthy Mind Cookbook also contains a section called The Culinary Pharmacy that lists 80 ingredients used in the book with notes about the roles they play in helping memory, mood, energy, sleep and more.  The information was garnered from peer-reviewed studies conducted with humans and animals in a lab specifically looking at the connection between food and the brain.  Even though science has not yet proven definitive connections between diet and the brain, it is still a very important connection to study.

It is somewhat expected that fading memory and advanced age go hand in hand because it was believed that the brain was incapable of producing new cells to replace old or damaged ones.  But recent discoveries show that new brain cells can, in fact, be produced.  Omega-3's are linked to a chemical known for jump-starting neuron growth and foods rich in vitamin E like nuts, seeds, broccoli and citrus also show a link to increased neuron growth activity.

Personally, I don't need years of research and studies along with approval from the FDA or government to tell me that food affects stress, anxiety, mood, depression, memory, cognitive function and learning.   Realizing that our brain is comprised of 60% fat, it makes me wonder if the deprivation of fat due to years of the low fat/no fat diet fads could be the cause for the onset of Alzheimer's and dementia.  Do I want to take a chance with my brain health?

NO.  NO.  NO.

I want my medulla oblongata to have a fighting chance! 

After my initial glance through the book, I had no doubt that it would be one that was given a coveted spot on my kitchen counter instead of being relinquished to gather dust on the overburdened cookbook shelf.  I chose 17 recipes to try and as of this posting, I've prepared 5 of them and have not yet been disappointed.  I like the book because it makes me get outside of my real food box - it contains combinations and  ingredients that I don't normally purchase or already have on hand.  Nothing weird, just different items like chili paste and bean thread and fresh mint.  The book also contains a resource for buying special ingredients online in case you can't find them in your local grocery store.  I also liked the fact that ingredients are repeated in recipes throughout the book without being redundant or repetitive.  It helps to not waste food. 

The Thai It Up Steak Salad (pictured on the book cover) scared me at first with it's inclusion of fish sauce and bean threads but I was very pleasantly surprised.  The marinade/dressing was very spicy from the chili paste, but I couldn't stop myself from eating it.


The Shrimp-Stuffed Avocados 2.0 is perfect for lunch or as a quick and light summer dinner on the patio. I was piggish and ate two servings at one sitting.  I had some "stuffing" left over and served it over salad greens.  I liked the combination of the crunchy apple with the smooth, rich and creamy avocado.     


I eat a lot of seafood but honestly tire of so much shrimp and salmon.  The Baked Halibut with Tomato, Mint and Fennel broke up that monotony.  The  topping was an interesting combination that I wouldn't have thought about and again, it scared me but I was game to try something new and I'm so glad I did.  I served it alongside wilted fresh spinach from my garden.  I had a bit of the tomato, mint and fennel mixture leftover and tossed it with some nice chunks of Feta cheese and served it over salad greens. 


The Rosemary and Pear Muffins was written for making mini muffins and I gave thought to changing them up to make standard sized muffins instead.  But I stuck with the plan and in retrospect, I'm glad I did.  They are perfect bite-sized savory morsels.  I've enjoyed a couple for breakfast each morning at my desk with an apple and slice of cheese. 

Julie's Sweet-and-Sour Cabbage was a great way to use up the remaining red cabbage from the Thai salad and since it keeps for up to a week in the refrigerator, it's been a great side dish addition to lunches and dinners this week. Crunchy, colorful and tangy, it's been a nice change from my regular green salads. 

There are so many more recipes that I want to try, but I already declare The Healthy Mind Cookbook by Rebecca Katz and Mat Edelson a great addition to my real food cookbook collection! 

I received this book free to review from Blogging for Books. The opinions expressed in this review are my true thoughts and feeling regarding this book. I am disclosing this information in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255.


 

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Paleo = Hell No


I had been seeing and hearing the word “Paleo” tossed around in the food blog corners of the world that I frequent occasionally.  Without much research I picked up on the fact that it refers to eating like our Paleolithic ancestors and followed the principles of eating real food instead of processed ingredients. Intrigued, I wanted to learn more since I, myself, am on the real food journey.  When it came time to make my next selection from Blogging For Books, I chose a Paleo themed cookbook called “The Paleo Chef” by Peter Evans.  With buzz words like “effortless” and “delicious” describing the book’s 100 recipes for a Paleo lifestyle, it was sure to be a winner.  

So let me stop right here and add a disclaimer:  If you are already a follower of the Paleo way of life or are very seriously contemplating the lifestyle, this book MIGHT be just what you are looking for.  But in my quest to learn more and possibly consider the aspect of further defining my real food eating habits, this cookbook made me realize that Paleo = Hell No.  My review issues are mostly with the principle of Paleo and not so much with the book itself.   

I enjoy food. The preparation, consumption, and social activities involving food are a big part of my life and I don’t see much enjoyment with this plan of eating.  It seems that it’s more about eating only for fuel, energy and survival.   The photographs in “The Paleo Chef” weren’t even appealing to me – they seemed sparse and void of enjoyment.  After thumbing through the entire book, there was not one recipe that jumped out as something I’d want to try just for the sake of giving it the old college try.

The Paleo lifestyle restricts a lot of foods that I enjoy – dairy and alcohol being two categories.  “Occasional fruit” is optional on the Paleo plan and I can’t give that up either.  I understand eliminating grains in your diet if you have allergies or sensitivities, neither of which I do, so I’ll keep them around as well.  Legumes are off-limits because they didn’t grow during the days of our cavemen ancestors.  Cavemen didn’t have electricity either but I don’t see any big movement to rid ourselves of that convenience.  I’m in total agreement with the concept of eliminating refined sugars and processed ingredients, so Paleo and I are on the same page in that regard.  And the idea of eating offal (organ meats and entrails) was enough to seal the deal for me turning a blind eye to Paleo.  Chef Evans includes a recipe for seared beef liver with fig salad and raw steak topped with a raw egg.  No thank you.  

Peter Evans obviously doesn’t shop for groceries in my neighborhood.  Some of the ingredients used in several of his recipes are not commonly found in my grocery store.  It’s hard enough to incorporate a special trip into my busy routine to pick up humanely raised meats and farm-fresh eggs, so I don’t want to squeeze scavenger hunting into my schedule as well.   The recipes contained a lot of nuts and seeds but you first had to ferment these items.  I occasionally find something fermented in my refrigerator but it’s not there intentionally.  

Again, if you are a Paleo enthusiast, this book could be right up your alley.  But if you are just looking to see what the buzz is all about and not whole-heartedly into the concept, skip the book.  

Paleo = Pillow for the Schnoodle

I received this book free to review from Blogging for Books. The opinions expressed in this review are my true thoughts and feeling regarding this book. I am disclosing this information in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255.

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I Heart You, Valentine

It's no secret that I love the Boy Toy more than I love goat cheese.  And that, people, is ALOT.  As long as we've been together, I still get all twitterpated about date night with him. 

We had initially planned to go back to "our place" for Valentine's Day - the same restaurant where we've had dinner for the past two years, but after Boy Toy brought home a $300 souvenir speeding ticket from our California trip a few weeks ago, I made the offer to have dinner at my house instead.  I don't get the opportunity to cook for him often and I was uber excited about our plans all week.  I planned an easy-to-prepare menu complete with a sinful dessert and picked up a couple of bottles of wine that I had been wanting to try.  (This label combination made me giggle because I'm dirty like that.  50 Shades of Grey ain't got nothing on me!)


During our flights to and from California, Boy Toy entertained himself by streaming episodes of Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives on my iPad (am I turning him into a foodie??) and at one point he turned to me and asked if I thought he would like polenta.  "Yes! Of course you would!" I said. (I really had no idea if he would or not but I always try to further his interest in food so I was very agreeable that he would absolutely LOVE it while at the same time wondering if I would even like it.)  I decided the next chance I had, I would test the polenta theory.  Keep in mind that you do have to plan ahead when making it as it requires several hours (or overnight) to cool.


This holiday is all about love and spending time together and we had the perfect evening - great food (the polenta got two thumbs up from both of us), great wine and FABULOUS company! I hope you enjoyed Valentine's Day with your someone special and I hope you enjoy these recipes for your next special occasion. 





Lemon Rosemary Steak with Mushrooms
Serves 4

4 (6-ounce) grass fed sirloin steaks, about 1/2 inch thick
Salt and freshly ground pepper
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 cloves garlic, peeled and smashed
1/2 pound fresh mushrooms, sliced
1 spring fresh rosemary
juice of 1 lemon
1/4 cup water

Pound steaks lightly with meat mallet to slightly thin.  Season both sides of steak with salt and pepper.

In a large skillet over high heat, combine 2 tablespoons of olive oil and garlic cloves. When the pan is hot, add 2 of the steaks and cook for 1 minute. Flip steaks, add rosemary to the pan and cook for 1-2 minutes more. Transfer steaks to a platter and keep warm. Add remaining olive oil and repeat process with steaks, garlic and rosemary. Remove steaks to platter and add mushrooms to pan and saute for about 2 minutes. Add lemon juice, water and any juices accumulated from steaks, lower heat to medium and cook for about 2 minutes, scraping up any browned bits from the bottom of the pan. Cook about 1-2 minutes more.

Discard rosemary and garlic, spoon pan sauce and mushrooms over steaks and serve.



Polenta cakes topped with mushroom pan sauce from the steaks


Polenta Cakes
Serves 4

1 cup cornmeal
3 cups water
1 teaspoon salt
4 tablespoons butter, divided
shredded cheese (Cheddar or Parmesan works great)

Bring water and salt to a boil. Gradually sprinkle in cornmeal, whisking continuously until all cornmeal has been added. Simmer until mixture becomes thick, about 20 minutes, stirring occasionally to keep cornmeal from sticking to bottom.. Once mixture is done cooking, stir in butter and pour mixture into a lined baking sheet making sure polenta is at least ½” thick. Cover with plastic wrap and place it in the refrigerator to cool for at least 2 hours (up to 2 days).

Slice polenta into 8 cakes. Melt 1 tablespoon of butter and place 4 polenta cakes in a skillet. Grill cakes for 5 minutes, until golden brown. Flip and grill until other side is golden brown, about 4-5 minutes. Remove from skillet and repeat with remaining polenta.

Serve topped with shredded cheese.   I also topped with mushrooms and pan sauce from the steaks





Molten Chocolate Lava Cake with Caramel Filling
Serves 4

1 stick unsalted butter, plus melted for brushing
1 tablespoon unsweetened cocoa powder
1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
6 ounces 70% dark chocolate, chopped
1/2 cup granulated sugar
3 large eggs, at room temperature
Pint of salt
4 tablespoons store-bought caramel sauce

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.  Brush four 6-ounce ramekins with melted butter.  In a small bowl, whisk the cocoa powder with 1 tablespoon of the flour; dust the ramekins with the cocoa mixture, tapping out the excess.  Transfer ramekins to a sturdy baking sheet.

In a medium saucepan, melt 1 stick of butter with the chocolate over very low heat, stirring occasionally.  Let cool slightly.

In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat granulated sugar with the eggs and salt at medium-high speed until thick and pale yellow, about 3 minutes.  Using a rubber spatula, fold in the melted chocolate until no streaks remain.  Fold in the 1/4 cup flour.

Spoon 2/3 of the batter into the prepared ramekins, then spoon a tablespoon of the caramel sauce on top.  Cover with the remaining chocolate batter.  Bake in the center of the oven for 16 minutes, until the tops are cracked but the centers are still slightly jiggly.  Transfer ramekins to a rack and let cool for 5-8 minutes.

Run the tip of a knife around the edges of each cake to loosen.  Invert a small plate over each cake and, using pot holders, invert again.  Carefully lift off the ramekins.    

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