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The Sweeter Side of Life

It’s that time of year again where families get together to celebrate the holidays. These festive acts of love usually involve food...because what’s a celebration without food? However, I’ll be honest here — I’m tired of having the same dishes all the time...and I’m sure you are too! Being of Caribbean descent (Jamaica & Guyana) there are certain dishes that are non-negotiable. Pepper Pot, an Amerindian stew, is one of those dishes. It is not a Guyanese Christmas unless that dish is present — along with plait bread of course. Another non-negotiable dish in our family is my mac and cheese. I’ll have to share the recipe with you all one of these days — just not this day. Why? Because the focus of this blog post is the sweeter side of the holiday spread. The one area I’ve always struggled in has been desserts. There’s only so many variations cheesecake and banana pudding you can have before you’re just over it.

That’s why I’ve teamed up with Chef Erika Durham of cheferikablog.com to bring you some amazing holiday meal finishers that are sure to stop the show at your dinners this year. Based on what I can see, the YumDiva definitely came out in these recipes because they're that yummy!

Erika has been a Chef for about a gazillion years. Well, maybe not a gazillion, but for a long time ya know? Chef Erika's love for food started at age four and inspired her to pursue a career in the industry. She completed her education at Le Cordon Bleu and graduated with a degree in Culinary Arts. She has worked in both the restaurant and hotel industries before finding her home as a Corporate Executive Chef. There she stayed for many years. Her client list included several celebrities and business leaders - Oprah Winfrey, Magic Johnson, The Greek Consulate, The President Council of Hong Kong, People Magazine, Google and English Parliament.

She eventually left the corporate world because she realized that if she was no longer corporate she could live her best life and wear cheetah print pants every day without being called into her Boss’ office. She then became the Private Chef for World Renowned Artist Theaster Gates. Chef Erika also enjoys writing so she writes about what she loves on her lifestyle blog cheferikablog.com. There, you’ll find Restaurant Reviews, Original Recipes and Travel Recommendations. She is a Gemini and uses that as an excuse to have a Chef Alter Ego personality called YumDiva.

YumDiva wears skirts and high heels in the kitchen with her chef coat and follows zero rules. In addition to her food repertoire, Chef Erika is also a licensed Bartender and continues to develop her interest in wine. She was fortunate to have studied under the tutelage of a Master Sommelier learn the wine "back story”. She uses the knowledge to enhance her work in the kitchen. She finds her ultimate joy while “playing with her food” and writing about it.

Now that you've been properly introduced to Chef Erika, let's get into the amazing recipes she has created for me to share with you!

First up on the sweets menu is her Sweet Potato Cognac Bread Pudding. This recipe calls for three of my favorite things -- sweet potato, cognac, and bread. Not only are these common household ingredients but the recipe is very easy to follow!

Sweet Potato Cognac Bread Pudding Serves 8-10 Ingredients 2 Baked Croissants, sliced into ½ inch pieces 1 cup leftover Pound Cake or plain cake Doughnuts, crumbled into large pieces 3 Hawaiian Rolls or any Egg based Roll, torn into pieces 1 ½ Sticks Unsalted Butter, melted ½ cup Sugar 1 Tablespoon Ground Cinnamon 3 teaspoons Ground Ginger Additions 1 Cooked Sweet Potato, cut into chunks ½ cup Pecan pieces, toasted Royale 2 cup Egg Nog 3 teaspoons Ground Ginger 4 teaspoons Ground Cinnamon ¾ cup Sugar 1 cup Cognac (also Bourbon works) 3 eggs 2 teaspoons Vanilla Extract Instructions 1. Combine first set of ingredients in medium sized bowl. Toss 2. Lay out in a single layer on foil lined sheet pan. Bake in preheated 375f oven. 3. Bake for about 10 minutes. Rotate pan and bake for another 5 minutes or until bread is crisp. Remove from oven and set aside. For the Royale 1. In a medium sized bowl, combine all ingredients. 2. Mix thoroughly with a wire whisk. Assemble 1. In an 8 inch sprayed (cooking oil) pan spread half of the cake and bread mixture in a single layer on the bottom. 2. Add half of the pecans and ¾ of the sweet potatoes. Sprinkle for even distribution. 3. Add the remainder of the cake and bread mixture. 4. Dot in empty spaces the sweet potatoes and other half of the pecans. 5. Pour royale mixture over the dish. 6. Gently press the bread mixture into the pan. Bake 1. Bake in 375f oven for about 45 minutes or until pudding is set. 2. Let cool slightly to serve. Note: Can be served with your favorite dessert sauce (caramel, chocolate or custard) Enjoy!

But wait, there's more!

Now that you're probably drooling from checking out the recipe above, allow me to bless you with the ultimate finisher -- Chef Erika's Red Velvet Cake Cocktail. No holiday gathering is complete without a signature drink, right? What if I told you that signature drink could be delicious and healthy? Take a look below for Chef Erika's spin on a popular dessert -- in the form of a drink!

Red Velvet Cake Cocktail ​​​​​​​Makes 6-8 Servings ​​​​​​This recipe is my version of a healthy holiday cocktail. It contains veggies and almond milk. I consider this a win all around! LOL Ingredients 1 Whole boiled Red Beet (small to medium), peeled 1 cup Cake Flavored Vodka ½ cup White Godiva Liqueur ¼ cup Chocolate Syrup ½ cup Raspberry Liqueur 1 ½ cup Almond Milk Ice Instructions 1. To prepare beet: while raw, peel beet completely with vegetable peeler. Boil until cooked through (approximately 1 hour). Cool until ready to use. Can be stored in refrigerator up to one week. 2. Combine all ingredients, including beet, in blender. Blend until completely smooth. 3. Stir with ice and strain in glass. Or, make it easy and pour over ice. Do what you feel. Note: This is a dairy free version. However, if you would like a thicker consistency or nut free please substitute Almond Milk with heavy cream or evaporated milk. Can be also topped with whipped cream for extra yum….

I'd like to thank Chef Erika for providing these amazing recipes for me to share with all of you. I hope you'll give these amazing recipes a try this holiday season -- I know I will! To check out the rest of Chef Erika's recipes and her YumDiva activities, be sure to visit (and subscribe to) her blog as well as check her out on Facebook and Instagram.

Happy Holidays!

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