Saturday, January 5, 2013

New Blog

Thank you for following my blog. I have a new website that holds my new blog. You will find it at

On my website you will find recipes, blog posts, and more. I hope you have a great 2013!

I am looking forward to what all this year offers. I already have several events on my calendar including cooking at Chefdance on Jan. 18th during the Sundance film festival.

I hope you enjoy my new website and blog! (:

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Southern Living

I love living in the South and there is a magazine that is dedicated to just that called Southern Living. The magazine features a decor, recipe, and travel section. My mom has been a subscriber for years. I would flip through the pages of the magazine and imagine one of my recipes being featured. I am excited to announce that one of my recipes is featured in this month's issue of Southern Living magazine. It is my black eyed peas with okra and andouille sausage recipe. I am even more thrilled though to share with others in the pages of the magazine, a recipe in my family that is over a 100 years old. My great grandmother was one of my cooking inspirations. She taught me about cooking and hospitality. I learned how to make her famous biscuits, roast, gumbo, and more. One recipe I never learned how to make from her was her tea cake recipe. I had tasted her tea cakes as they were served on her table at various Sunday lunches and special occasions but I never made them with her. At her 97th birthday party, I had my great grandmother share with me again the story behind her tea cakes. She learned how to make them from her mother who learned from her mother. After she was done sharing with me the story, she said I needed to come by her house that week to learn how to make them. Unfortunately, I did not get that chance. My great grandmother passed away early that week.

I did however get to have a special moment with my grandfather one night after my great grandmother passed away. My great aunts, great uncles, and other family members were at her house. If I was going to learn how to make her tea cakes, then I needed to learn from those who not only watched her make them but who had made them with her. I asked my grandfather, great aunts and uncles for their guidance while making the tea cakes.

My grandfather stepped in and demonstrated how my great grandmother, his mother, would form the tea cakes in her hands and then make an imprint with her fingers in the dough rounds. My grandfather was the first to taste the tea cakes out of the oven.
He said they were delicious!
I am so glad to have the memory of this special moment with my grandfather who has recently passed away. I strive to make every moment with my family special because I never know when it could be the last.
Psalm 100:5 For the LORD is good and his love endures forever; his faithfulness continues through all generations.
In Loving Memory
Mary Strahan (my great grandmother)

Thursday, October 4, 2012


How do you take grown-up food and make it kid friendly?
I have taken my mini meatloaves in my cookbook and turned them into meatloaf-on-a-stick.
I thought about how kids like to dip their food in sauces such as dipping pizza in ranch dressing, chips and dip, corn dogs and mustard, etc.
I take the ketchup that is usually baked on the meatloaf and offer it as a sauce for dipping. My ketchup is not from the bottle either so moms can control the salt and sugar amount.
I have said that the meatloaf-on-a-stick is kid friendly but do not let this stop the adults from enjoying them too. These would be great to serve on game day. Having the individual meatloaves prepared and served on a stick makes it easy for them to be cooked on a grill.

Meatloaf-on-a-stick with homemade ketchup
1/2 cup reduced-sodium beef broth
Miracle Marinade (recipe follows)
½ lb. ground chuck
1 ½ lbs. lean ground beef
3Tbsps. Italian-style breadcrumbs
2Tbsps. whole milk
1 egg
1 large egg white
1/8 tsp. coarsely ground black pepper
Homemade Ketchup (recipe follows)

Combine the broth and 1/4 cup of the Miracle Marinade in a small saucepan. Cook over medium heat until reduced to 1/4 cup, about 10 minutes.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
Combine the ground chuck and lean beef in a large bowl.  Sprinkle the bread crumbs over the meat mixture.  Pour the milk and reduced marinade mixture over the breadcrumbs to moisten.  Beat the whole egg and egg white together in a small bowl. Add to the meat mixture along with the pepper. Stir to combine the mixture well but be careful not to overwork, or the meat loaf will  be tough.

Form about 1/4 cup of the meat mixture around each (16) wooden popsicle sticks and then place each on a baking sheet.  Spoon the remaining ¼ cup Miracle Marinade evenly over the meatloaves-on-a-stick. 
Bake for 15 minutes. Remove from the oven and spread 1/2 tsp. homemade ketchup over each meatloaf-on-a-stick.  Return to the oven and bake additional 5 minutes.
Miracle Marinade
1 tsp. extra virgin olive oil
4 tsps. finely diced onion
1/2 cup soy sauce
2 tsps. apple cider vinegar
2 tsps. fresh lime juice
2 tsps. orange juice
½ tsp. minced garlic
¼ tsp. minced fresh ginger
2 tsps. sugar
½ tsp. paprika
 Heat a small skillet over medium-low heat. Add the oil and onion. Cook until tender and caramelized, 2-4 minutes.
Combine the remaining ingredients in a small bowl.
Stir in the caramelized onions.
Use Immediately or store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 1 week.
Makes: ½ cup
Homemade Ketchup
2 (8 oz.) cans no salt added tomato sauce
1/2 cup all natural no sugar added apple juice
2 Tbsp. sweetened dried cranberries
6 Tbsp. honey
1 tsp. apple cider vinegar
Combine all the ingredients in a small saucepan over medium heat. Cook for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Transfer the mixture to a food processor. Process until smooth. Return to the saucepan and cook over medium-low heat for an additional 10 minutes.
Makes 2/3 cup

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

DIY (do-it-yourself) Fall Projects

My mom is a very crafty and creative person. You can do a lot with a little if you encompass both of these qualities and she does just that.
She is also thrifty!
Take this pink paper mache letter, my mom bought this at a thrift store for $2. What would you do with it? She asked herself this question and then imagined and transformed the pink H into this
She simply spray painted the H with chalkboard paint and then let it dry before writing Fall and Halloween messages on it with chalk.
You would never guess what she used to make this fall wreath for our front door.
I will give you a wear them.
Ok I will tell you. She used men's ties. She found the ties for 15 cents at a store we love called Dirt Cheap. Her creative mind came up with a use them for. She strung the ties on florist wire and created a ruffle effect. She then secured them on the wreath. She added paper mache pumpkins to the wreath which she wrote with a fine point sharpy fall messages like Happy Fall Y'all. The M (for Miller) received a quick paint job that transformed it from white to red. Voila` the simple wreath was transformed to a beautiful fall wreath.
My mom is also adding fall plants to our front porch to go along with the fall decorations. She simply taped off a square with painter's tape on a clay pot she had. She was able to give this old pot some character.
Decorating for the fall does not have to be costly or difficult. Think outside of the box. Find those mystery box items (think of the Masterchef episodes when the contestants are given a mystery box of ingredients and transform them into a masterpiece of a meal) around your house and yard and then use them in creative ways. Most importantly, have fun! Be sure to take a moment and revel in your work.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

1st Birthday

John Michael McKenzie's 1st Birthday
Last Tuesday, my nephew celebrated his 1st birthday. My mom and I had not seen my sister, brother-in-law, and nephew in a month since their move to Shreveport, LA. We decided to drive there on his birthday to celebrate and spend the week. I decided before I left home that I would make John Michael a healthy smash cake. If you haven't heard of a smash cake, it is the cake specially made for the birthday boy/girl and he or she usually smashes into it. haha!

So for John Michael's cake I used my sweet potato-banana muffin recipe  but cut out the sweet potato part and added more banana I used mostly honey for sweetener and Greek yogurt to add moistness for some of the butter that I eliminated. JM loves bananas. He is our little monkey (:
I prepared the topping at my sister's house which was simply whipping cream I beat until soft peaks then whisked in some vanilla yogurt. I piped the "icing" onto his cake by cutting a slit into the corner of a zip top bag.
John Michael didn't quite know what to think of the cake so his daddy gave him a little taste of the "icing" and it was all over from there.
                                                       Needless to say he loved it!
On Saturday we had a birthday party for John Michael with my dad and younger sister and my brother-in-law's family. Again, I wanted to make John Michael a smash cake. My sister asked my mom to make the big cake which was a monkey cake to go along with the monkey theme of the party. I decided to make our little monkey a banana flavored but also shaped cake.
 For this cake, I baked a round cake and cut it into a peeled banana. For the "icing," I wanted it to hold better than just whipped cream so I beat whipping cream until soft peaks and added some Dream Whip as a stabilizer and a little powdered sugar for sweetness. I colored some of the "icing" yellow and some brown. It was so simple and easy to make and decorate his cake.
The monkey cake my mom made turned out so cute and most importantly it tasted good too.
 My crafty older sister made these jars to hold peanut candy (monkey food), m&ms (monkey poop), and twizzlers (monkey vines). She simply wrapped ribbon around each jar and placed a cut out circle from wrapping paper on top of it.  She then taped on the felt monkey head that she bought from a craft store. The whole expense of the craft project probably cost $12 which includes the price of the jars which came from Fred's dollar store.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Sweet Potatoes

Whether I am visiting a city for business or pleasure, experiencing the local cuisine is always on the agenda. My mom traveled with me this past weekend to Winston-Salem for the Bookmarks Festival. Last week, I just so happened to run into Robert St. John at one of his restaurants in Hattiesburg, MS. After telling him about my upcoming trip, he expressed that I needed to visit Sweet Potatoes restaurant. I was excited to get a recommendation before I even left and he had me at sweet potatoes, one of my favorite vegetables.

Fast forward to Friday night, all of the authors were invited to a meet and greet. Heavy appetizers were served, but Mom and I made sure to save room for dinner because we planned to visit Sweet Potatoes. Robert wasn't the only one to suggest the restaurant; almost everyone since my arrival to Winston-Salem had suggested it as well.

Sweet Potatoes is a Southern restaurant with a unique twist. Sweet potatoes can be found in most items throughout the menu. Mom and I began with the fried okra and green tomato basket served with a sweet potato aioli. Sweet potatoes in an aioli intrigued me. (An aioli is basically a mayonnaise base flavored with garlic.)
Many of their entrees are served with sweet potatoes in some form including mashed or candied, in a cornbread and a cornbread dressing. We had their yard bird which was a smothered chicken dish. The waitress said that it was one of the popular items on the menu, and it was a very moist and tender chicken. I asked for a slice of their sweet potato cornbread on the side. I am a sucker for cornbread. I love it and especially partial to skillet cornbread. The golden amber square of cornbread with specks of brown cinnamon and spices came to the table just shortly after the chicken. It didn't look like any cornbread I had ever seen. I spread a little of the honey butter on a piece and sampled. Oh, wow! I immediately fell in love with this cornbread. The slightly sweet flavor of the sweet potato was very much present and the spices complemented it nicely. Mental note to try making this at home!
Sweet potatoes are featured on the menu from start to finish and speaking of finish, the dessert menu looked good. Mom and I were torn between two desserts, but thought if we were ever going to have a great tasting sweet potato pie, it would be here. Immediately after ordering the pie, I turned to my mom and said, "Did I just order sweet potato pie?" For some reason before ordering, I had an image of the year my sister Leslie and I fell in love with pumpkin pie. We had a slice of the pie for breakfast, a snack, and dessert. I couldn't get enough of that pumpkin pie. So after waking up from my pumpkin pie dream, I realized I had just ordered a sweet potato pie. My previous experience with sweet potato pies were that they tend to be heavy. I like a light, creamy almost mousse texture pie. I snapped myself out of the moment and my reluctance for choosing the pie over our other option. I was going to have an open mind. The pie came to the table. I examined its appearance. Golden brown crust was the base for the layers of sweet potato. "Yes," I said, "layers!" Sitting on top of the crust was a single layer of sliced sweet potatoes and then the common smooth sweet potato layer followed. A dollop of cinnamon whipped cream and a dusting of cinnamon-powdered sugar were the finishing touches.

If the appearance of the pie was any indication of its flavor, then I was in for a treat. The crust had a slight crunchy texture and buttery flavor. The layer of sliced sweet potatoes didn't weigh down the light and creamy top layer of the pie. The flavors exceeded my expectations. It wasn't like any sweet potato pie I had ever had. My mom and I took a bite after bite, being sure to include the cinnamon whipped cream and the dusting of cinnamon-powdered sugar with each morsel. We left enough of the pie on the plate to not feel like gluttons and exited the restaurant with a happy heart and a full stomach. I think I walked off the slice of pie as my mom and I trucked the several blocks back to our hotel. I wish the several blocks was an exaggeration. If only my sense of direction was as good as my cooking because somewhere along the way, my mom and I got a little lost but that story is for another day.

*Try my Sweet Potato Peanut Butter Blondies recipe in my cookbook or my sweet potato banana muffin recipe on my blog

Wednesday, August 29, 2012


Who doesn't like pizza! My sisters and I loved pizza night at our house. My mom made homemade pizza crust and we girls topped our pizza dough with assorted toppings. When I was younger my pizza would have looked like a blank canvas. I didn't like bell peppers, olives, tomatoes, and mushrooms. Well, what is left? Cheese and pepperoni! When it came to enjoying a pizza with my family, I would take a piece of the veggie loaded pizza with meat of course for my dad and then begin the process of picking off all the toppings. My parents wouldn't order an individual pizza just for me because I didn't like all the toppings. I appreciate now that my parents didn't cater to what I didn't like at the time because my palate evolved. Repetitive introductions to these vegetables provided my palate an opportunity to develop a liking for them. So, parents don't give up if your kids do not like a lot of different vegetables but keep introducing them.
                                                           Stuffed Bell Pepper Pizzas
I thought I would blend together two meals that I grew up eating as a kid, pizza and stuffed bell peppers. For those nights that you don't feel like spending a lot of time cooking, prepare this for dinner. I started off by preparing my homemade tomato sauce. You can skip this step and use a store bought tomato sauce. The rest of the steps just include preparing the stuffed ingredients. This is definitely a kid friendly and picky eater meal because everyone can choose the ingredients to stuff their peppers with. Also, try using the red, orange, or yellow bell peppers.
1) Cut the tops of the bell peppers. Remove the seeds and membrane. Slightly precook the bell peppers, either in the microwave for a minute or for a few minutes in the oven. Peppers should still be firm enough to hold their shape. This step is to ensure the peppers are cooked throughout after final baking.
2) Place the bell peppers in a muffin tin.
3) Spoon enough ricotta cheese (try my homemade buttermilk ricotta cheese recipe- or cottage cheese to cover the bottom of the bell peppers.
4) Top with diced vegetables such as eggplant, mushrooms, onions, etc., sliced black olives, crumbled sausage, etc. Slightly press down the veggies and/or meats in the peppers.
5) Spoon tomato sauce (try my tomato sauce recipe in my cookbook on pg. 112) over the veggies.
6) Bake the stuffed bell peppers in the oven on 350 degrees F for 15 minutes.
7) Top with shredded mozzerella cheese and bake for an additional 5 minutes or until cheese has melted.
8) Enjoy!