Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Save a Horse

One of the best things that came from being given the privilege of teaching students with special needs has been that they have needs I can't meet. I know you are thinking wtf??? She is admitting that she can not do it ALL! Be assured hell has not started selling snow cones.

Teaching students with visual impairments was like entering a foreign country for me. I felt inept. And scared. Yes, I was scared to death of 3 little blind girls. But because I was scared and felt unprepared it made me receptive to getting as much help from the real professionals as possible. In comes the "best thing" part, Eileen. Eileen came in to teach the kids but has taught me more than I care to admit. She has also become one of the best friends I have ever had. She lets me be me and as crazy as that is at times, she still likes me.

She works with brilliant people at FSU who want to make a real difference in how students with visual impairments experience the world. Lucky for me she brings me along to events where I get a chance to meet and mingle with the new crop of up and coming vision teachers. This year I was wracking my brain to think of what I could bring to the annual brunch. I have a bumper crop of jalapenos this season and am trying to find creative uses for them so I went to my handy dandy internets and found exactly what I needed.

Cowboy Candy. Seriously sweet syrup pickled jalapenos. Here's how I made them-

2 small jelly sized mason jars
1 larger sized mason jar

1 1/2 lbs washed and thinly sliced jalapenos
1 lb washed and sliced small sweet peppers

In a large pot I heated the following to boiling and boiled for 5 minutes.
1 1/3 c apple cider vinegar
4 c sugar
2 T garlic powder
1 T tumeric
1 tsp celery flakes

After the mixture boiled for 5 minutes I added the jalapenos and boiled for 3-5 minutes. Then I scooped them out of the liquid into 2 of the mason jars. Next I returned the mixture to a boil and added the sweet peppers. This allowed them to pick up some mild heat from the jalapeno oils but not enough to become fire bombs. I cooked them for the 3-5 minutes and scooped them into a larger mason jar. I let the syrup in the pot cool and then filled each jar up to near the rim, wiped the edges with a damp paper towel and put the lids on.

This is where if you do that voodoo that you do, canning, you'd do that. I decided mine would be kept in the fridge so I just let them chill.

At the brunch I served them with cream cheese and plain old Ritz crackers as a spicy, sweet, accompaniment to the creaminess of the cheese. They were cute and delicious. I knew they were a success when I turned around and Eileen had schmeared (which is the technical term for putting cream cheese on a bagel)a bagel and decorated the top with all the little jalapenos and the sweet, tongue tingling sticky syrup.

My Favorite First loved adding the sweet peppers to his grilled mahi burger. Give them a try if you ever find yourself happily or hopelessly up to your hiney in jalapenos.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Back 2 School

Tomorrow is the big day! I love back to school. OK. I love it mostly. I also get this bittersweet feeling about all the things I wanted to get done that I didn't and about not having time to take care of my family. Being the husband and kids of a teacher is hard. For instance, only teachers' kids walk into the kitchen and smell something delicious and immediately ask first before they get excited, "Is that for us or your kids?"

So in order to celebrate this new adventure we will all be starting I decided to cook something for my Favorite First Husband to help him to remember me by. He knows for the next month I will be up at school day and night, week day and weekend. He gets to practice being a single dad during this time.

Mr. Dennis <3s sweet potatoes and I spotted this recipe through Pinterest for pulled pork stuffed sweet potatoes. But I decided to spice things up a bit and add an island flair.

I started by putting a huge pork loin in my slow cooker with a small bottle of Hawaiian BBQ sauce, some Siracha, brown sugar, ginger, soy sauce, and 5 spice powder. I cooked this for about 10 hours on low. The house smelled like a pig roast in Hawaii must. I took the pork loin out of the crock pot and let it sit on the cutting board for about 15 minutes to cool enough so I could work with it. In the meantime I added gobs of ingredients to the juices in the crock pot. Into the pot went-
1 can crushed pineapple
1 bottle honey BBQ sauce
1/3 cup molasses
1T steak seasoning
2T chili/garlic paste (this is what made it spicy so add to your family's tastes)
the dregs of a few bottles of bbq sauce I wanted to finish up

It was not an exact science. Then I sliced and pulled the pork. After I tasted it for quality assurance it all went back in the crock pot and cooked it for another 2 hours. Actually I went to the mall to find a new perfume and the crock pot cooked until I got back. So time is not a critical factor to the success of this recipe either :p I cooled the bbq and then refrigerated it over night.

The next evening I roasted several large sweet potato at 375 for 2 hours and then reheated the bbq pork. I sliced the potatoes in a cross and pushed the ends to open it up. Next came the sweet and spicy bbq pork piled on high, and topped with sliced green onions to complete the island flavor and add some brightness.

My Favorite First Husband loved it. He even thanked me for making it for him. He knows. He knows it meant, "I love you", "I'll miss you" and "You still mean more to me than my job." My #2 Most Honorable Son scarfed his down on a bakery hoagie roll, as he would keel over if any thing resembling a vegetable touched his lips. If he had any idea what was in the sauce, he'd have turned his nose up at it but it was so good he insisted, " I really like this. Don't tell me what is in it." I have to admit the pork was tasty. The sauce was just sweet enough to quell the spice.

Tomorrow it is back to Chickadee U. for me. Never forget that teachers have families too and that often those families sacrifice just as much as the teachers do. Every dollar spent on supplies, every hour spent working at home or up at school, is part of what is just a normal way of life for those lovies who love people who love to teach.

Peace, love, and learning!

Thursday, August 9, 2012

I've Been In Sorrow's Kitchen and I Licked Out All the Pots

Promise I have not gone 2 months without cooking something for my family to eat. I just have been down and not felt like I made anything truly amazing that I felt compelled to share. I was very fortunate to have had some delicious experiences courtesy of other magnificent chefs such as my venture to Bouchon Bistro and Bakery, of the Thomas Keller Bouchon's. I had a TKO (Thomas Keller Oreo) at the bakery and an amazing cheese plate, perfectly seared tuna and a leggy glass of red at his Bistro in Yountville, Ca. in the Napa Valley.

Later in the summer I was fortunate enough to be a part of a week long experience hosted by the Florida Humanities Council. The focus was my favorite author Zora Neale Hurston and her connections in Florida. She lived in Eatonville, Fl. which was the first African American incorporated town in the US. The seminars were so well put together and the ideas really broadened my vantage on some spiritual and women's issues. I was blessed to have the opportunity to eat at an AME church in Eatonville. We had fresh fried chicken, salad, green beans, creamy mac-n-cheese, and cool crisp coleslaw. The picture above was taken in the kitchen at the church. Another blessing from this event was that I finally found my book. Yes, it will be about food but also about people. I owe Zora a Pall Mall.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Greed & Gluttony~ 2 of my fave sins

Shhhhh. Don't tell anyone but sometimes, every once in a blue moon, I cook for *me*. This was one of those times. I decided to selfishly make something that I knew not one other person in my whole house would touch with a ten foot or any other length pole. Broccoli Cheese Soup. Cheesy goodness in a pot. I added some crusty bread, sliced tomatoes, and olive oil & balsamic to dunk rounding out the perfect goodness. I was also thinking the acidity would be nice to cut through the creamy, cheesy, soup.

I'm going to try to describe what I did to make the soup but keep in mind, I cook. I rarely practice the art of science in my kitchen. I hardly ever measure or mix in order unless I am baking. So if you try it and it turns to glop or tastes like the wooden spoon, my apologies but in the immortal words of one of my loving Chick-a-dees, "no refunds." :p

Broccoli Cheese Soup
2 cups of water
2 grated carrots
1/2 grated onion or 3 sprigs snipped green onions (I used green onions)
Mix these ingredients in a pot and cook as per rice mix directions.
When the rice is done add broccoli florets- you can use frozen but I used fresh- use as much as you like and make them the size you like in your soup
I added 2 more cups of water to the pot and some chicken base (you can use bouillon)
I simmered with no lid for about 30 minutes til the water reduced.
Then I let the mixture cool.
Once cool I scooped out approximately 1 1/2 -2 cups of the mixture and pureed it in the magic bullet until it was smooth.
I poured this back into the mixture and added
2 more cups of water
1 can cream of chicken soup
1/2 cup of wine
1 Tbsp Worcestershire
1 tsp dry mustard
crushed red pepper flakes to taste
1 tsp thyme
1/2 tsp ground sage
1 tsp garlic powder
fresh cracked pepper
I heated this on medium low for about 15 minutes to heat through.
Then I added grated swiss, cheddar and parmesan cheeses. This is the no measuring part. =)
I heated that just shy of bubbling for another 10 minutes and then added
1/2 cup heavy cream (yes, heavy cream. Use what every dairy you want but it was a splurge meal for me. I think you could even add that Greek yogurt if you are so inclined)
I heated it about 5 minutes stirring frequently and avoiding those bubbles that could curdle the cream.

It was amazing. It will be amazing like 6 more times because I am the only one eating it. By then I will be sick of soup and on my 25th anniversary trip to California.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Breakfast for Dinner

This was a great weekend. I had a Pinterest Party with friends on Friday, attended the Logan's Martial Arts Academy Annual Picnic on Saturday, and then on Monday was fortunate enough to get to cook for my friend's family. This is the same chica who had friends that set up a meal train for her while she kicks cancer's ass.

Perusing her list of meal train menus I noticed no one had served them any alternatives to dinner so I thought about how much my family loves to have breakfast for dinner. I also have to say that I make a quiche (thanks to Jean Jacob's original recipe) that has been described as magical because it makes "spinach taste like bacon." It was a no brainer. I made spinach, bacon, and swiss quiche, blueberry french toast casserole which has this warm berry syrup (I addGrand Marnier to the syrup as it cooks for a little kick) to drizzle on top, and some fresh fruit and a vanilla yogurt sauce (yogurt, brown sugar and vanilla bean paste) to add creaminess to the fruit. My house smelled like heaven and the aroma left me wanting nothing but butter toffee coffee all day.
It is an unusual meal for Memorial Day but I hope it will be nourishing and soothing to every one's bodies and souls.
Spinach, Bacon, & Swiss Quiche
2 9 inch deep
dish pie crust (I don't do home made pie crust. Not because I don't want to but because it lea
ves me miserable each time I try)
10 eggs
1 1/2 cups milk or half & half (I always use half & half)
1 pkg bacon pieces or 1/2 pound cooked and crumbled bacon
1 pkg frozen chopped spinach thawed with the water squeezed out
1/2 onion grated
1-2 cups of shredded swiss cheese (I grate my own)
1 T Worcestershire sauce
1/2 t dry mustard
1/4 t black pepper
dash of nutmeg

In a 350 oven blind bake the pie crusts for about 5 minutes. In a bowl mix eggs, add milk and then all the other ingredients. Pour into crusts and bake for approximately 50 minutes or until tops are brown and puffy. Make sure the centers are solid. If they are getting too done and the middle is still jiggly, turn off the oven, cover with foil, and let them rest in the oven for up to 10 more minutes. This is delicious any time of day. I save the leftovers and nuke. This is also a great recipe to make crustless if you are gluten free or paleo or just hate crust like I do. You can make it in little ramekins.

Bonus Boozy Bacon Jam

Pinterest is a time sink. I want to move in to Pinterest Land and live amongst the food and gardening boards wearing something
from one of the 389482347297 style boards peeps have set up. I saw this recipe there and fell in love with the idea. Bacon and booze jam. Hot damn I'm in!
The recipe was ez pz and with the exception of forgetting I do not keep bourbon in the house usually I was very eager to try it. This is where having a son who just turned 21 comes in handy.

The process of making the jam begins with rendering the fat from the bacon and only using the bacon. Then in a pot you sautee onions in butter with brown sugar and cook down for 20 minutes. Then you add the bacon to the onions and add the spices, vinegar, syrup, booze, siracha, etc. The mixture simmers for an hour and a half. When it cools you can puree it to whatever consistency you'd like. I over did it and would suggest just a few swift pulses in the food processor.

The results are amazingly sweet, salty, smokey and spicy all at once. I served it with fresh crusty french bread and goat cheese. The goat cheese adds just the right tartness to off set the sweet jam. It was a hit at both parties it attended over the weekend. You know chicks dig goat cheese and dudes dig bacon so it is a win/win appetizer

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

My Favorite First

Everyone knows him on facebook as my Favorite First Husband and he absolutely is. He will also be my Favorite Last Husband. Really. Who could handle all this? Who is man enough to try?
Well my baby daddy is turning 48. So I know you are all thinking, "What would he most want his wife, the same wife who shows her emotions by feeding peeps, to make for his birthday treat?"

The answer of course is Jell-O Poke cake. No. Seriously. That gloppy mess that is typically reserved for toddler birthdays. Well, if'n that's what my baby wants, that is what he shall have. Cept I am absolutely not fooling with layers. Birthday cakes at the Dennis household come in a 13 x9 pan no matter what goes in it. The only exception is cupcakes.

So the gist of a Jell-O poke cake is a cake that you poke and pour Jell-O over. Then you refrigerate it for a couple of hours so the Jell_o can both soak in and set up. You can just imagine what 2 cups of gelatin does to the texture of a box cake mix *ack* The best part of this cake will be the frosting. It I mean will be fluffy, sweet clouds. It is possible I cleaned the beaters and bowl, my mama taught me right, with strawberries. mmmmmm. The frosting consists of 2 bars of cream cheese whipped, 2 cups of powdered sugar, and 1 tub of cool whip. It is the perfect topping for any refrigerated cake or dessert, especially with fruit. My Favorite 1st chose strawberry Jell-O for his cake so it was the perfect match. Just as he and I are.

I love that man. He deserves the world. But he's happy with a Jell-o Poke cake, and me. Just in case he needs a little somethin' somethin' on the side, I got him a Samsung Galaxy tablet. Man can not live by poke cake alone. Not my man. Happy Birthday to my Favorite, First, Last, Everything.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Cancer Sucks

It has to be so awful to hear those words, “It’s cancer.” I hope to never have to hear them but more than that I hope to never be sitting with someone I love when they hear those words. My friend, Amy, has done that. Sat there. Had to hear that. Had to say the words, “My husband has colon cancer.” Torture. She is the bravest person I know.

And so was my friend Barbara, and my friend Leslie, and my friend Samantha and all my friends and their children who have sat around the dinner table trying to choke down dinner, while they choke back tears and choke on the cancer that is ravaging someone they love. So I cook. Not to say I feel sad for you, not to say you need help, not to say cancer sucks. I cook so that maybe one meal, one dinner, one moment can feel like a celebration. Maybe something I cook for you reminds you of a vacation, or a special evening, or maybe it just tastes good even to taste buds worn away by the damn chemo. You know, the damn chemo that is saving them.

So I’m sending a package of love to a family, a fiesta in a box! The menu is Margarita Chicken Salad, Black Bean & Corn Salsa, Homemade Jalapeno Honey Mustard, Tortillas, and Churro Cupcakes. See what I mean! How can that not be fun?!

It is a super easy meal to make to deliver to someone. My friend has a Mealtrain. If you know any families dealing with a loss or traumatic illness this is a great way to organize meal delivery. Please check it out!

Here is how the components of this meal break down. I will not have a final dish picture because I am packaging it all to place in coolers on her front porch.

Margarita Chicken- I marinate chicken breasts in lemon or lime juice, garlic, chili powder, cumin, cilantro, and add some tequila. I grill the breasts ahead and slice into thin strips.

Salad/Tortillas- In this case I am sending bagged lettuces, a bag of shredded sharp cheddar and a package of tortillas. My kids like to make this meal into soft tacos instead of eating it as a salad.

Black Bean & Corn Salsa- I chop up about a cup of whatever tomatoes look the ripest. I add a can of rinsed and drained black beans, and a cup of frozen (thawed) sweet or baby corn. I add 2 T of vegetable or olive oil, 1 T of lemon juice, 2 T of white balsamic vinegar. I mix in salt, pepper, 1 small chopped jalapeno (I took out the seeds since I am not sure if they like heat), some fresh cilantro, sliced green onions, 1 tsp chili powder, 1 tsp cumin, garlic, and onion powder. This is better if the ingredients get a chance to hang out and party together.

Jalapeno Honey Mustard- I make this in my favorite kitchen tool, my Magic Bullet. Blend together ¼ c honey, ¼ cup stone ground mustard, 1 T lemon juice 1/3 c vegetable or olive oil, 1/3 cup apple cider vinegar, salt, pepper,1 tsp chili powder, 1 tsp cumin, fresh cilantro, garlic, 1 seeded chopped jalapeno or several spoonfuls of pickled jalapeno rings or diced jalapenos. This warms up more as it hangs out in the fridge.

Churros Cupcakes- (pictured without topping) I used this recipe for the cupcakes and made a simple glaze of lemon juice, vanilla and powdered sugar. I dipped the cupcakes in the glaze and then into a cinnamon sugar mixture to coat.

I am hoping this meal is devoured and with it all the karma and positive energy I mixed in.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Whose Yer Daddy?

Or Mama as the case may be???
I did it! I finally got it together enough to try my hand at Shrimp-n-Grits. I have spent a lot of time online surfing recipes to try to come up with something that sounded just right. That being said I have only ever tasted Shrimp-n-Grits off other peoples' forks at restaurants. I've had it from Harry's and most recently from the glorious Angelette's. If you have not been to Angelette's by all means try it.
So I also had to consult Weight Watchers since I started it again last Monday. I found a link to a member's post of a Southern Living recipe. I emulated it the most. Keeping in mind that I measure nothing and cook by smell, I am going to include a guesstimated recipe. That means YMMV and I can not be held responsible if yours comes out like soup :p It was simple and I served it with sauteed fresh yellow squash and cheddar garlic biscuits from a mix. I hope you'll try it and find it as delicious as my Favorite First Husband did. Rumor has it he used a biscuit to clean the plate.

2 T olive oil
4 small sweet red & yellow peppers finely diced
1/2 an onion
1 T minced garlic (I used jarred- so spank me)
3 raw strips of bacon diced
2 T butter
1 1/2 T all purpose flour
1 T Tony's Cajun Seasoning
1/2 tsp black pepper
1 T Worcestershire Sauce
1 T Frank's Red Hot Sauce (adjust per your peeps' tastes)
1 T chicken base and 1 1/2 cups water mixed or 1 1/5 cups chicken stock
1 tsp lemon juice
1 pound cooked, peeled, tail & head off shrimp (thawed)
4 scallions (I cut them with kitchen shears)
1/4 cup half and half

3 cups water
3/4 cup quick cooking grits
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp black pepper
1/4 cup half and half


In a skillet heat olive oil and then add peppers, garlic, and onion. When I added the onion I grated it into the pan so the sauce would be smoother in the end. Sautee until soft then add diced bacon and cook until lightly browned. Add the butter to the pan and once it has melted add the flour, Tony's and black pepper. Mix and cook slowly over low heat until a light red-brown sort of brick color.

In a sauce pan add the 3 cups of water, and bring to a boil. Add the salt and whisk in the grits. Turn the grits to low, cover and turn your attention back to your roux in the skillet.

Add in your Worcestershire and Frank's. Then stir in your chicken base and water or stock to the skillet. Add the lemon juice. Sauce should thicken quickly but let it bubble a minute or two so all the ingredients get friendly. Add your thawed shrimp and your scallions to the mix and place a lid on the skillet to continue a low simmer for another 2 minutes.

In the sauce pan with your grits, stir in the black pepper and half and half. Then add the half and half to the skillet with the shrimp, and mix. Turn the heat to both off and serve it up piping hot with a veggie and biscuits. It made 6 servings.

This recipe is devoid of cheese as my favorite First Husband is not a fan but some Parmesan mixed in with the shrimp and the grits would be a delicious addition. I hope you will give it a try. I would guesstimate it at about 12 WW Plus Points. I try to make my foods healthy but I will not sacrifice taste. You could use light butter, and fat-free canned evaporated milk instead of half and half to save considerable fat and calories. I really wanted it to be creamy and luscious because this dish was a Sunday night love letter to the man who pumps my gas, rubs my toes, encourages me to drink wine, eat candy, go back to college and hang out with my friends. *swoon*

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Soy Milk ≠ Heavy Cream - Last episode of the cupcake trillogy

And I know what you are thinking, "What idiot would ever think it does?" *Raises hand and jumps up and down wearing dunce cap*

I just must have lost my mind temporarily. But I only have 1/2 and 1/2 and need it for coffee so I was thinking chai tea, chai tea. What do I like with chai tea? Ooooooh I know, vanilla soy milk. Wrong answer. 2 sticks of butter, vanilla bean paste, cinnamon, cloves, soy milk and powdered sugar does not make frosting. Not with any decent consistency. It tasted pretty good but I'll let you be the judge on whether or not you think the frosting will hold up long enough to have them for snack. It is my intern's 30th birthday and we will be partying even if the frosting drips down our elbows.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Sweet 16 Indeed

So my baby turns 16 tomorrow. He's so much more man than child now days. I walk that line between wanting to wrap him up in his "ki ki" and rock his big self to sleep, and giving him the keys to the car so he can try to buy me wine at Walmart because I don't want to put my bra back on. Honestly people, I am trying to avoid being a post of . He doesn't want a party but he conceded that I could make extra cupcakes and take them to his dojo. So despite an overwhelming urge, I did not decorate them with Thomas the Tank Engine.

In a previous post I mentioned how I had used cream de coconut in place of water in the cake mix and it resulted in sinkholes. So I piggy backed from the recipe for frosting Kristina mentioned in that post and made a filling from a stick of butter, 1/3 cup of honey and 1/2 a bag of sweetened coconut. I creamed them together, then scooped and rolled them into balls placing the balls in the sinkholes. I then made a coconilla frosting from a stick of butter, 8 oz. of cream cheese, 1 T of vanilla bean paste, and 2 tsp of coconut flavoring. I creamed those together til nice and fluffy then added 2 cups of powdered sugar, whipping until it was like coconut clouds :p Then I did the old sandwich bag as frosting bag trick. I hung a bag inside a plastic cup folding the edges of the bag over the edge of the cup then scooped the frosting in the bag. Then I rolled the edged of the bag up, squeezing the frosting towards one corner, clipped the corner off and frosted the cupcakes. They turned out smarvelous. The soon to be birthday boy came home mid-frosting and I let him have a taste. He approved which means I am over the moon.

Saturday, April 7, 2012


So this upcoming week I have not one but 2 birthdays to celebrate. My wonderful classroom intern, Ebonee, is turning the big 30. When I turned 30 I wore black and moped around for a solid week. It is my duty to make sure she experiences none of that. So she said she likes Vanilla cupcakes but well I think vanilla is boring. So I trumped her vanilla with some chai tea. I substituted vanilla chai tea for the water in the French Vanilla cake mix I used. I'm thinking I will make a ginger butter cream to top them off. Hers are the ones in the purple floral wrappers.

Also this week my sweet baby, most honorable son #2 turns 16. Sweet 16 and never been. never. ever will. *plugs her ears & sings loudly* So he loves coconut. I hate coconut. But I decide to doctor a plain cake mix by using cream of coconut in place of the water and added some vanilla bean paste. Unfortunately the doctoring caused a way too thick batter and what resulted looks more like innie belly buttons than cupcakes. Good thing I know frosting covers a multitude of sins. I'm thinking banana coconut cream cheese but will have to decide that later.

A Plan to Document the Murder & Mayhem

So many friends on facebook have made comments about my obsessive posting of my adventures in cooking that I decided it was time to try my hand at creating a place devoted to my epicurean therapy. I cook because it helps me to relax and feel good about myself. The accomplishments I make in the kitchen make me feel creative. I can express myself there. When I cook I can try new things with little fear of failure. I'm expanding my skills and my pants size simultaneously!

This is the place where I will discuss the recipes I undertake and the stories behind why I am making them. Often the focus of my dish is the person I am making it for. I often cook to express my feelings. If I love you, I will cook for you. If you inspire me, I will cook for you. If you are unwell (body or spirit), I will cook for you. Not because you need me to but because I need to show you how I feel about you. It's my personal epicurean therapy. You, are my victim.