I’d made a couple of cheesecakes before, but none had turned out exceptionally. Either I got a giant crack in the top, or my “water-tight” aluminum foil seal malfunctioned, and the water bath leaked into the spring-form pan when baking. They were mostly edible, but nothing to write home about. I got some new spring-form pans for Christmas, so I knew I wanted to make a cheesecake first thing. A cheesecake can be expensive to make, as many recipes call for close to a metric ton of cream cheese.  I came across Ty Flo’s recipe, which only used 2 blocks. It also incorporated sour cream, which I had a giant tub of. It was rated 5  stars with a ton of reviews, so figured it was a good place to start.

It turned out perfect! The texture was thick and creamy, just what a cheesecake should be. For the topping I used Ina’s raspberry topping. In a previous baking venture I’d tried her recipe, which resulted in aforementioned crack. But, the topping – the topping was to die for. It’s such a simple concept; melting down strawberry jelly, then mixing in fresh raspberries. The sugar in the jelly just slightly macerates the berries. Turning them into sweet, juicy, little glistening gems. Perched on top of a decadent cheesecake. Sheer perfection. If you are leery of baking a cheesecake at home, please try this recipe. It won’t disappoint!

I’ve been having a lot of fun making pasta at home these days. I’ve had a pasta machine for a few years now, the kind with the handle you crank. It was a great little machine, but I never found myself getting it out to use.  I’d wanted the attachment for my stand mixer for a while now, but it was pricey – and, not really something I’d buy for myself. Well, my mom and dad were really good to me this year and gave it to me for Christmas! Since then, I’ve been making pasta probably once a week. It’s been so wonderful. While dried boxed pasta is very affordable, and you can even get high-quality imported pasta at your regular grocery store now…there is just something to be said for fresh pasta.

Tender, yet firm. Finally, the term “al dente” makes sense! I’ll be honest with you guys, my first attempt was a bunk. I used the recipe that came with KitchenAid attachment instructions, and it was a complete wreck. It used 100% all-purpose flour. I had to add a considerable amount more water than the recipe called for, and it just kept tearing when I tried to roll it out. That batch ended up in the trash can. But, I didn’t give up. I turned to Annie, who can always be counted upon for a great recipe. This dough came together beautifully, rolled out beautifully, and cut beautifully. I happened to have semolina on hand from a previous trip to the “big city”, and used what I had in a couple weeks. I had to poke around a bit to find it close by, but I found it at a health food store. The 50/50 ratio of all-purpose flour to semolina is just perfect. I’m looking forward to trying some flavored pastas as well. I think I’ll mix some chopped fresh herbs into the pasta next time. With some sautéed garlic and olive oil. Perfect, simple dinner! Enjoy.

We don’t go out to eat that often, but when we do, we usually go to the local Mexican joint down the road. Our favorite place closed last year. The friendliest family ran it. They were always so great with Andrew, the food was always good – we just loved them. They moved on to another part of the country to start a new venture, and left me with no Mexican eats locally (outside of my home, of course) for about 6 months. In desperation one day, I browsed Mexican restaurants in our vicinity on Yelp. To my surprise, one turned up in a town nearby – a nice 30 minute drive on the back roads. I must admit I was leery, as Crisfield is known primarily for it’s seafood (blue crabs, oysters, etc). I wondered how good could this place be? I’d never heard of it. But, like I said, I was desperate. So, one night, we ventured up.

We were blown away with the dinner we got at that little hole in the wall place. The proprietor/chef hails from South America, so there are lots of great Latin options – as well as traditional Tex Mex fair. While a new place has opened up closer by, we still try to make the trip to Mi Pueblito whenever we can. My favorite thing on the menu is the black bean soup. So simple, yet so flavorful and filling. Nice and smoky from the ham hock, and rich silkiness that only black beans can lend.I always devour the whole bowl, then have very little room for dinner. I made a batch last weekend at home in an effort to recreate their version, and it is right on point. As with other soups, it was even better the second day for lunch. The pico de gallo on top is optional, but highly recommended. It adds a great pop of color and flavor!

Cajun seasoning is one of my favorite spice mixes. I use it on/in many different dishes; crispy potatoes, spicy shrimp pasta, etouffee and gumbo (as Alton would say – that’s another episode!). Often, the spice mixtures that you buy off the shelf have a ton of salt in them. Plus, alot of words that I can’t even pronounce. I’ve found that it’s very easy to make at home. It only takes a few seconds to put together the spices that you probably already have in your pantry. And with most things you make for yourself at home, it’s much more economical than it’s store-bought counterpart.

I love food from that region of the country. I’ve not yet had the opportunity to visit-but many books, movies, and television programs that I love are centered there. Any Swamp People fans out there? I’d have to say Troy is my favorite, followed closely by the Guist brothers. Somehow I can’t imagine them going to the grocery store to shell out $5 for a small tin of spices. Part of the life is making due with what you have, and taking pride in it. While I’m not quite ready to be shooting and dining on squirrel like Glenn and Mitchell, making my own Cajun spice mix is a start, right? Looking forward to making more DIY basics in the kitchen in 2012.