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 hint...men 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 http://whitneymillermc.blogspot.com/2011/12/you-can-do-it.html 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 http://whitneymillermc.blogspot.com/2011/12/you-can-do-it.html

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- http://whitneymillermc.blogspot.com/2012/03/back-to-basics-cont.html) 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!


Sunday, August 19, 2012

Presto! Pesto for Dessert?

There are occasions when I need to quickly whip up an appetizer, entree, and/or dessert. I have found one component that takes minutes to prepare and that can really bring a dish together. Add pesto and Presto!

I created a turnip green pesto recipe for my cookbook. Turnip greens grow abundantly in the South. To prepare pesto, a bunch of greens is needed. Basil is traditionally used, but I seldom have the quantity required so I thought turnip greens would work well.
My pesto is very versatile. For a simple appetizer, my family and I enjoy the turnip green pesto with olive oil and focaccia bread for dipping.
I also recommend in my cookbook tossing the pesto with pasta for a quick pesto pasta salad.
In the photo above, I created a mozzerella-pesto stuffed meatloaf. The flavors worked so well together and was a great way to add greens into a dish. With the ooey goodness of mozzerella, even kids won't turn down greens with this meatloaf.

Turnip green pesto is just one version but there are so many other types of pesto that can be created.
Mustard greens have soft leaves and a unique flavor. I created a mustard green pesto to pair with my spiced lamb kebobs but it also pairs well with my eggplant and ricotta "stack." While my turnip green pesto combines turnip greens with walnuts and parmesan cheese, for my mustard green pesto, I add ingredients to compliment the flavor of the greens, pistachio for a slight sweetness and feta for saltiness.

Now, pesto for dessert?
Yes, there is a pesto that tastes great in a dessert.
My mint-pistachio pesto adds a bright, nutty, and slightly sweet flavor to any dessert, especially this easy one.
-Slice, then toast angel food cake
-Melt a thin slice of brie on top
-Spread on a small amount of pesto
-Top with a fresh or cooked fig (or cherry)
Mint-Pistachio Pesto
1 Tbsp. shelled & skinned pistachios
1/4 cup packed apple mint
fruity olive oil (I used California Olive Ranch's Arbequina)

Pulse the pistachios a few times in the food processor. Add the apple mint. Drizzle in a small amount of the olive oil. Process. Add more olive oil to produce a pesto consistency.
This pesto also pairs well with chocolate. Think mint-chocolate chip!

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Southern Candy Bar

If you have a copy of my cookbook (Modern Hospitality: Simple Recipes with Southern Charm), then you know I like grits. I feature grits in the breakfast, entree, and dessert section. Yes, dessert section. My dad loves the combination of coconut and chocolate. I created this simple dessert using basic, inexpensive pantry ingredients that you probably already have on hand. You’d never guess that the secret ingredient in these decadent little bites is a Southern staple: grits!

This is the heading for my Crispy Coconut Bites with Chocolate Sauce recipe in my cookbook using grits. Keeping with my inspiration for this dessert, I decided to create a Southern candy bar for my dad. Grits pair well with coconut because the texture of the grits melds with the texture of the coconut. Even if someone is not a fan of grits, they would probably not even know they were eating grits in this dessert. I actually have proof of that statement. I was conducting cooking demonstrations for Women's Health magazine's "Are You Game" event last year in both Chicago and New York.
I prepared my crispy coconut bites for the event. Before the women sampled the bites, I told them that I was not going to tell them the secret ingredient until after they ate it. I watched as they took a bite. Smiles and expressions of joy filled their faces. They liked it; so I thought they were ready to hear the secret ingredient. The secret ingredient I told them is Grits! You should have seen the faces of the New York ladies who have probably never even seen grits before. I heard from the crowd, "but we don't like grits." I said, "well I guess you do now haha! " They all laughed. The story to be learned, if you think you don't like grits, try my crispy coconut bites and this recipe for my Southern candy bar.
Southern Candy Bar
1 cup coconut water
1/3 cup coconut milk
½ cup quick cooking grits
2 Tbsp. granulated sugar
½ cup shredded sweetened coconut
12 pecan halves
½ lb. chocolate, preferably bar not chips (milk, semi-sweet, or dark)

Bring the coconut water and milk to a slight boil in a small saucepan over medium-high heat. Whisk in the grits and reduce heat to low. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the grits reach porridge consistency, about 5 minutes.

Remove from the heat and stir in the sugar and shredded coconut. Spoon the grits mixture into a wax paper-lined loaf pan. Spread out evenly with a rubber spatula and let cool at room temperature for 2 hours or until slightly firm.

After 2 hours, cut the coconut mixture into 12 rectangles.

Chop the chocolate into small chunks.
To temper the chocolate, fill a small saucepan with a few inches of water. Bring the water to a simmer over medium heat. Place a bowl on top of the saucepan and add a third of the chocolate chunks. Once the chocolate starts to melt, begin stirring the chocolate. Stir in the second-third of the chocolate chunks until melted. Then, stir in the last of the chocolate chunks until smooth. Transfer the bowl to the counter lined with a kitchen towel.

Lay out a large piece of wax paper on the counter.

Working with one bar at a time, place a bar on a slotted spatula. Top each bar with a pecan halve in the middle of the bar. Spoon melted chocolate over the bar until completely coated. Lightly tap the spatula to remove excess chocolate. To cover the bottom side of the bar, spoon a line, the size of the bar, of chocolate on to the wax paper. Using a butter knife, slide the chocolate coated coconut-grits bar onto the line of chocolate. Repeat with the rest of the coconut-grits bars. Allow to rest until chocolate has hardened.

Enjoy immediately or store in an air-tight container.

Makes 12 bars

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Campfire S'mores Scones

During my recent trip to Los Angeles, my mom and I rented bikes and hit the streets, biking to Venice Beach and Abbott Kinney Street. Parking the bikes, we ate our way down the street, starting with GTA (Gjelina Take Away). We sampled their brown sugar-blueberry scone. I loved the contrast of the crunchy scone exterior with the soft bready inside. The rich flavor of brown sugar not only topped the scone, but permeated throughout.
Continuing to walk, luckily the clothing shops were closed or I would have been greatly distracted, we happened upon a long line of people at what looked like a small cafe. The sign on the wall read Intelligentsia. Curious, I asked a man standing nearby who told me that this was the best coffee shop and by the way, it also had the best pastries. Of course, we couldn't move on after hearing this, so we joined the crowd outside. While standing in line, we took in the atmosphere. It was very much an earthy, industrial feel. Outside the small glassed entrance were concrete walls; greenery extended up one wall, flanked by earth friendly wooden slatted benches and tables. After arriving at the front of the line, I placed an order for a latte and a campfire s'mores scone. The pastries looked familiar to ones I had seen at Short Cake cafe/bakery located in the Farmer's Market at the Grove. My suspicion was confirmed by the barista who told me how their pastries were provided by Short Cake.
I watched as "my friendly barista" ground the beans for my latte and after brewing then poured the espresso. Lastly, she slowly added the Straus Family Creamery's cream forming a beautiful design in front of my eyes.
It was definitely worth the wait. It was the best latte I have ever had; the smoothest latte without a bitter aftertaste. The accompanying scone was really good also, different from GTA'S in shape and texture. It was round, a common shape for British tea scones, whereas GTA's was more triangular. The s'mores scone's texture was crumbly to the fingers, soft and moist to the tongue, with chunks of chocolate and a sticky marshmallow topping.

Last night as I was watching the Olympic's women gymnastic competition, I had a hankering (Southern slang word for craving/desire) for something sweet. I thought about that wonderful s'mores scone I had in LA. I knew that I already had a great scone recipe that I developed after returning from South Africa. By tweaking that recipe, I could create a s'mores scone. For the graham flavor, I processed enough graham crackers to equal 2/3 cups. My original scone recipe http://whitneymillermc.blogspot.com/2012/06/sweet-memories-from-south-africa.html calls for 1 2/3 cups so I thought I could get enough graham flavor with the two-thirds.

I removed my scones from the oven and then thought about how I would toast the marshmallow topping. Without really thinking it through, I dolloped the topping on the scones; then returned them to the oven to broil. I peered through the glass of my oven to see the marshmallow topping melt off of the scones. I quickly retrieved the scones from the oven. Oh no! I hope I didn't ruin my scones. I tried to wipe away the excess melted marshmallow topping before my scones became too soggy. To repair the ones that were damaged, I placed them back in the oven on bake to hopefully evaporate the moisture. Thankfully, it worked! I made more maple marshmallow topping and this time pulled out my handy dandy blow torch to toast the tops. *You can also take store bought large marshmallows, halve them, top the scones and broil in the oven. Because they are more of a solid, they should toast before the marshmallow melts. Then enjoy the ooey gooey deliciousness!
Campfire S’mores Scones
About 8 graham crackers
1 cup self-rising flour
1/8 tsp. baking soda
¼ tsp. baking powder
Pinch salt
1/3 cup unsalted butter cut into cubes, cold
2 ½ Tbsp. light brown sugar
1 large egg plus 1 egg (egg wash), beaten
4 Tbsp. buttermilk
1/3 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
Maple marshmallow topping:
1 envelope unflavored gelatin
¼ cup plus 2 Tbsp. pure maple syrup
Preheat oven to 425 degrees F. Grease a baking sheet with cooking spray.

Process enough graham crackers, in batches, in a spice grinder or food processor until the texture of flour, to produce 2/3 cups. Pour graham flour into a large mixing bowl.
Sift the flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt in a large mixing bowl. Rub the butter into the graham-flour mixture with your fingers until it is the size of breadcrumbs. Stir in the sugar.
In a small bowl, beat the egg and buttermilk until combined.
Stir the egg mixture into the flour mixture and mix until just combined. Stir in the chocolate chips. Then using your hands, lightly knead the dough together to form soft, slightly sticky dough.
Place the dough on a floured surface and shape into a sphere then pat down about ¾-1 inch thick. Using a floured 2-inch cookie cutter, quickly push the cutter down through the dough and lift without twisting. Cut out scones, reshape dough, and repeat. Creates about 12 scones.
Place the scones on the greased baking sheet and brush the tops of the scones with the beaten egg.
For the maple marshmallow topping: Sprinkle the gelatin over ¼ cup cold water in a small saucepan. Stir over low heat until dissolved.  Add the maple syrup. Mix well, then heat over medium-high heat until it almost comes to a boil.
Pour the warm syrup into a deep mixing bowl. Using an electric hand mixer beat on high speed for 6 minutes.
Place the scones in the oven and bake for 7 minutes. While the scones are baking return to mixing the marshmallow mixture for another 6-7 minutes or until doubled in volume and forms soft peaks.
Transfer the scones immediately to a wire rack to slightly cool.
Once scones have slightly cooled, spoon a dollop of maple marshmallow topping on each scone. Using a hand torch, toast each marshmallow topped scone until browned.
Serve slightly warm.
Makes about 12 scones

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

4th July Festive Foods

4th July is always a favorite holiday of my family. What makes it special is that it is also my mom's birthday. My family and I have spent 4th July at some fun places like the beaches of Florida and patriotic Boston, MA.
         On the 4th July a few years ago, at the Marriott Grand in Point Clear, AL, enjoying s'mores
         on the beach.

Fireworks are one of the most important parts of celebrating my mom's birthday on the 4th. Allow me to describe how important fireworks are to her. My mom had my sister, dad, and I stand on a huge bridge with a crowd of people in the RAIN to watch the huge fireworks show in Boston.
Not only are fireworks an important part of the celebration but more importantly the food. Whether our 4th July spread is on a picnic table, at the beach, or in our back yard; one thing stays the same the food is flavorful and fun!
Squash, zucchini, tomatoes, peppers, watermelon, figs, peaches, strawberries, and blueberries are all abundant right now so take full advantage!
My mom's recipe for her crispy pita BLT uses squash and jalapeno peppers in a unique way by oven-frying them. You can find her recipe in this month's issue of Taste of Home.
If you are wanting to crank up your grill, my miracle marinade in my cookbook will make any meat tender, flavorful, and mouth-watering good!
Miracle Marinade
1 tsp. olive oil
4 tsp. finely diced onion
8 Tbsp. soy sauce
2 tsp. apple cider vinegar
2 tsp. sugar
½ tsp. paprika
2 tsp. lime juice
2 tsp. orange juice
½ tsp. garlic
¼ tsp. fresh ginger

Heat a small skillet over medium heat. Add 1 tsp. olive oil and onions. Cook until caramelized about 2-4 minutes.

Combine the remaining ingredients into 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

If the grill is too much work for you, keep it simple and prepare bbq pulled pork, recipe found on page 55 in my cookbook, in the oven. I love to serve my coleslaw and creole succotash alongside.
For a knock-your-socks-off dessert, my cool and creamy strawberry cream cupcakes are the perfect 4th July dessert. Add blueberries to create a festive red, white, and blue treat!

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Exciting New Discoveries

Barely containing my childlike excitement, I lean sideways in my seat, pressing my face against the cold surface of the small window, straining to peer through the thick clouds, eager for my first sight of  "Africa". Finally, as the plane begins its descent to the Hoedspruit airport, the clouds start to separate and I can see clearly the golden grassy African plains, the setting for my family's safari adventure. The grassy plains stretch for miles, broken only by scatterings of cacti, thorny bushes, and trees.
Out of this expanse, I observe as a black dot appears and then stretches to form a line, lengthening until it becomes an airstrip. I feel the familiar jolt as the plane's wheels hit the tarmac and soon the loud whooshing sound of the plane's brakes fills the air. The plane rolls to a halt.  Still peering out the small plane window, I look intently for any sign of civilization, especially for a "standard" airport terminal. Once the seatbelt lights are extinguished and it's safe to leave my seat, I fall in line behind the other passengers, making my way through the aisle of seats and down the narrow stairs, gripping the handrail with one hand, while holding tightly to my small carry-on case with the other.  No terminal in sight, I blindly, along with my mom and sister, continue following the others, walking towards the end of the runway. Finally, the vague shape of a building appears, almost completely camouflaged with its blend of desert colors and fenced wall of what looks like  bamboo. Still following the lead of the people in front of me, I walk through an opening in the bamboo fence.
Looking to the left, my gaze is caught by a line of safari lodge drivers with their uniformed khaki shorts and shirts, standing along the sidewalk near the entrance to the building, holding signs clearly labeled with names.  Smith, Johnson......For a moment,  I experience that same old  nervousness in the pit of my stomach, that fear of being left or somehow forgotten...Jones, Miller....I sigh in relief to see our name.. I don't ever want to repeat the transportation mixups that occurred in our recent international trip to Dubai. So many times, due to language barriers, we were left waiting, tired and stressed, not knowing if someone was going to show.
Later,safely in the company of our driver, my mom, sister, and I wait on the small sidewalk outside the terminal entrance ,watching with humor as a large green tractor pulls up with a small trailer, luggage in tow.
As it rolls to a stop, our driver stands alert as the luggage is unloaded, listening for a word from us, "There it is; that's mine! The pink tag...that's Britt's!". He reaches for our luggage and then, places it in a huge white van with the words Thornybush  printed on the side.
Settled in our seats, having been made comfortable with an offering of cold bottled water from a cooler, we are finally on our way, focused intently on the scenery as the vehicle takes us farther and farther into unknown territory. Tall wire fences line both sides of the road. At intervals, signs appear identifying entryways to various game reserves and lodges.  After traveling for some time, the driver abandons the paved road in favor of a pale dusty, gravel one, the remainder of the lodge trip rough and shaky to say the least, the road marked by uneven ridges.
At last, the moment we have been waiting for..."safari" animals, zebras! At first sight, our immediate impression is amazement! Up close, in the wild, the zebras not only seem much larger than the ones we have seen in zoos, but also more vivid in color. The stark black and white patterned coats were mesmerizing. I could understand how easily the designs could confuse  predators in the crisscrossed thorny branches of the African plains.  Incredibly, those same vivid stripes were echoed in the short seemingly-manicured stiff-haired mane. The beautiful eye-catching patterns reminded me of designs I had once viewed through the lens of a kaleidoscope.
After driving through what seemed a maze of roads heading off in different directions and gaining access through a security point, the vehicle rolled to a stop at what I learned was the main Thornybush lodge. Smiles and hellos as well as small stemmed goblets filled with homemade lemonade awaited  us, the presentation intriguing with tiny edible flowers delicately threaded on toothpicks and suspended on the glass rims. After the brief interval of refreshment, we resumed the second leg of our journey. Transferring to another vehicle, a long army green land rover with the words Shambalala on the door, we were introduced to Ryan, our ranger and guide for the safari. A glimpse into Ryan's personality and sense of humor was soon evident as the rough road led to one bounce too many, sending my small black suitcase flying through the air. With an apology and a sparkle in his eyes, he quickly brought the land rover to a halt, jumping down and retrieving the case, dusting off the thin layer of sand and gravel. I could not help but laugh as the incident emphasized to me the true ruggedness of the safari experience. Traveling in an open vehicle with cases piled in the back, I could only imagine the early days of travel when flying luggage may have been a common experience.
In sharp contrast to the rugged travel,  my first experience  at the Shambalala lodge was the hospitable presentation of a silver bowl filled with moist cloth hand-towels for refreshing and cleansing after the long trip. It felt very much like "pampering" and I liked it! "Ready for a tour of the property?'... We eagerly followed our guide, not at all anticipating what we would see next. Africa came to us....in the form of a warthog crossing the sidewalk, and then, all of a sudden an antelope appearing nearby.  Then, the quiet was interrupted by sounds from a tree branch above us alerting us to the presence of another animal, a cute little monkey, just like ones I've seen in the zoo! However, I was disappointed as he scampered off before I could get my camera out, perhaps a bit camera shy , not wanting to stay close long enough for a photograph.
Lulled by the peacefulness of the animals we had met so far in our tour of the lodge grounds, I strolled confidently ahead only to draw back startled at the sight of a snake on the path in front of me. Quick to assure us that the snake was not real, the guide explained us that the rubber imitation was deliberately placed outside the open doors to the library to discourage unwanted visitors, in particular, the bold baboons. They are notorious for ransacking belongings, searching for anything associated with food. To further emphasize this fact, we are warned to be sure to secure our rooms when leaving them, making sure to slide down the large metal bar that makes up the old-fashioned lock on the doors.
The last stop on the tour was each individual's room, which turned out to be independent structures  resembling small English thatched roof cottages.
Each room's or cottage's interior boasted a rugged stone fireplace, a dreamy bed with sheer white mosquito netting, large footed bathtub, and an  indoor as well as outdoor shower for the full nature experience. The experience continued  as the drapes were drawn back to reveal a full wall of windows with a sliding glass door that opened  up to a wooden deck. The deck overlooked the huge lodge watering hole, providing the perfect spot for viewing wandering wildlife.
A few minutes later, I am left alone to unpack and freshen up, able to relax briefly  and absorb all of the newness of the experience before making my way to the main dining and deck area for "tea."  Not knowing what to expect, "tea" turned out to be an elegant presentation of appetizers and mini-desserts, all of which were delicious. During this time, the chef introduced himself as well as the dinner menu for each night.  "Tea" also was a social gathering for the safari guests, giving us time to talk and become acquainted with each other before leaving for the nightly safari.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Baked "Not Fried" Peach Pies

Monday night my parents and I were watching the Masterchef season 3 episode where the contestants had to make homemade apple pies. It happens to me every time I watch food shows; I start craving the foods that are being cooked on tv. This can be a bad thing when I am watching the cooking shows late at night. Haha!
The apple pies the contestants were making brought back memories of my mom’s fried apple pies. I would watch her crimp the edges of the pies with a fork then lightly pan fry them in a cast iron skillet. She finished the pies with a dusting of cinnamon and sugar which took them over-the-top. 
In the South, women grow up in the kitchen watching their moms and grandmothers cook. This holds true for my mom who learned how to make fried apple pies from her grandmother and for me, who learned how to make them from my mom. I wish I could have sampled my great grandmother's (my mom's mom) generously filled fresh apple pies but my memories only take me as far as picking the apples from her trees. I can only imagine the aroma of fresh apples and cinnamon simmering in a pan on her stove.

What could possibly be better than a fried apple pie? Peaches. I love peaches and when they are in season I can eat them any and every way, though there is one way that takes the peach, my not so fried peach pie. I know you are thinking there isn’t anything better than a fried pie and don’t tell me a baked one will be as good but it is.  My baked “not fried” peach pies are just as flaky and crunchy as fried pies. The secret is in the dough.

To follow up my success in using olive oil in making biscuits (check out one of my previous blog posts for the recipe), I decided to try using olive oil in my pie dough. Why bother using olive oil? It is a pantry staple. Gone are the days of not being able to whip up a home baked goods because you don't have butter in your refrigerator. Olive oil is reigning supreme in my kitchen. I conducted my baking test with the olive oil to determine if I could achieve the same flaky texture of a pie crust without butter. For testing purposes, I used California Olive Ranch Extra Virgin Olive Oil.
Knowing the importance of using ice cold ingredients in pie dough, I contemplated what I would do with the olive oil. Should I freeze it into a solid? Should I chill it until ice cold? I decided ice cold so I placed the bottle of olive oil in the freezer for 5 minutes to chill. If kept longer in the freezer, it would have frozen into a solid. 

I worked the olive oil into the dry ingredients with a fork, just like I would with butter. It produced this crumbly texture.
                                           Then I added ice cold water to form the dough.
What I couldn't believe is how simple it was to make these homemade pies. There is something nostalgic about making baked goods from scratch. I don't think there is anything that could make these pies any better.....though a scoop of ice cream or dollop of whipped cream couldn't hurt, after all they are baked. haha!
My mom and I talked about all of the different types of pies we could have by changing the filling. Strawberry, blueberry, or blackberry pies would be great to add to my 4th of July menu.

Baked “Fried” Peach Pies
Pie crust:
1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
¼ tsp. baking powder
¼ tsp. sea salt
2 tsp. fine cane sugar
¼ cup cold extra virgin olive oil (place in freezer for about 5 minutes)
1/3 cup or more ice cold water

Peach filling:
3 Tbsp. butter
1/4 to 1/3 cup light brown sugar (depending on the sweetness of your peaches)
3 large peaches, peeled, pitted, and sliced into 1/4-inch slices
1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1 large egg

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Lightly grease a baking sheet with cooking spray.

In a medium bowl, sift together flour, salt and baking powder.
Add the sugar. Work in the olive with a fork until fine crumbs are produced (as shown above). Mix the water into the crumble mixture until it is absorbed, then knead lightly (I do this with just one hand, in the bowl) until the dough forms a ball. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, make the filling. Melt the butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Sprinkle the brown sugar in the pan. Once the sugar begins to melt, lay the peach slices in the pan. Sprinkle the cinnamon over the peaches. Cook the peaches for 2 minutes on each side. Transfer to a bowl and set aside until to cool to room temperature.

Turn the dough out on a lightly floured work surface. Sprinkle a little flour over the dough. Using a floured rolling pin, roll the dough to about 1/8-inch thick sphere. Using a 4-inch round cookie cutter, cut small spheres. Form the scraps of dough together and roll out again. Repeat. Until about 10 spheres are made.
If dough is thick, pat out until a little thinner. Fill  one side of each sphere with some of the peaches. Fold the dough over and pinch closed. Using a fork, press around the edges of each pie to seal.

In a small bowl, combine the egg and 1 Tbsp. water.
Place the pies on the baking sheet. Brush each pie with a little of the egg wash. Bake for 20 minutes.
Immediately transfer the pies to a cooling rack.

Enjoy the pies warm!

Monday, June 11, 2012

Sweet Memories from South Africa

Last Sunday after only being home for 3 days from my trip to South Africa, I awoke craving a scone. To feed my craving, I made a small adjustment to my biscuit recipe and called it a day. Sadly to say it was not the same. It wasn't that the biscuit was not good but I had the memory and flavor of a scone. The difference being scones are flakier and lighter than biscuits. I wanted to master making scones so I was back at making them on Saturday. I researched online South African scone recipes and traditions associated with them. What I found is that South Africans usually learn to make scones from their grandmother and/or mom. The tradition of making them on Sundays is very popular. How fascinating! My great grandmother would always make her fluffy biscuits on Sundays. I would watch and learn from her the art of making Southern biscuits.
When looking through the various scone recipes online I found that the addition of an egg and milk is what makes scones differ from biscuits. After deliberating over the ingredients and the amounts, I baked my first batch of scones. The end result wasn't what I was looking for. I abandoned the challenge that day and thought more about what I would do differently.
                                                  Buttermilk Scones (Sunday's 1st batch)
Waking up this morning with an excitment for creating scrumptious flaky scones, I flew into the kitchen. "Baking is a science." I have heard this statement over and over but it doesn't really resonate until I am experimenting in the kitchen.
How do I make my scones flaky and light and not cakey and dense? After some deliberating, I came up with what I thought would be the perfect ratio of flour to butter and egg to milk. For the milk, I went Southern style using buttermilk.
Once the ingredients were incorporated, the dough produced was soft and pliable. It was much easier to work with than the dough from Saturday's batch of scones. 
The timer sounded and I opened the oven door with anticipation. The scones were risen nicely but the tops were not browned. Hmmm....this is why I didn't bake all of the dough. To fix this batch, I broiled the tops. They tasted great but the tops needed to have gotten golden brown during baking. 
Breakdown of my experimentation:
1st batch) Baked at 425 degrees F and brushed with buttermilk on top
2nd batch) Baked at 450 degrees F. Tested one with buttermilk on top and one with egg
3rd batch) Baked at 425 degrees F and brushed egg on top
Third time is a charm! Baking the scones at 425 degrees F was the perfect degrees but the problem with the 1st batch was that the scones were not golden brown. The solution was to brush the tops with the egg instead of the buttermilk. The result was flaky and light scones with beautiful golden brown tops which lended both a light crunchiness and appeal.
I can thank chef Reza (UK Food Network's Spice Prince) for introducing me to the proper way to indulge on a scone. After conducting a cooking demonstration at one of the theatres in the Good Food and Wine Show in Cape Town, I relaxed in the lounge with my mom and sister. Then enterd Reza with his explosive energetic personality. He took one look at the tier of freshly baked scones, provided by the culinary students, and dove in. "Where's the clotted cream?" he exclaimed. "The what? I said in bewilderment. In a second, he was out the door and on a mission to find clotted cream. With a smile on his face and a bowl of fluffy mile high cream in his hand, Reza sat down and continued to compose his scone. First smearing the cream then the strawberry jam. I had never seen anything like it except maybe strawberry shortcake which is whipped cream and strawberries on top of a scone like baked good. My first thought though is a biscuit which I have never eaten cream on. I didn't even know what clotted cream was. Reza's face lit up as he enjoyed his concoction. Without skipping a beat, Reza repeated the process three more times to prepare a scone for my mom, sister, and me. After one bite, we understood what the hype was all about.

At home where clotted cream  is not so easily found, I prepared my own cream by beat whipping cream to soft peaks then incorporating greek yogurt. My scone wouldn't be complete without homemade strawberry jam. My foodie memory enveloped me and I was back in South Africa.
Buttermilk Scones
1 2/3 cups self-rising flour
Pinch salt
1/3 cup unsalted butter cut into cubes, cold
2 ½ Tbsp. granulated sugar
1 large egg plus 1 egg (egg wash), beaten
4 Tbsp. buttermilk
Preheat oven to 425 degrees F. Grease a baking sheet with cooking spray.
Sift the flour and salt in a large mixing bowl. Rub the butter into the flour with your fingers until it is the size of breadcrumbs. Stir in the sugar.
In a small bowl, beat the egg and buttermilk until combined.
Stir the egg mixture into the flour mixture and mix until just combined. Then using your hands, lightly knead the dough together to form soft dough.
Place the dough on a floured surface and shape into a sphere then pat down about ¾-1 inch thick. Using a floured 2-inch cookie cutter, quickly push the cutter down through the dough and lift without twisting. Cut out scones, reshape dough, and repeat. Creates about 14 scones.
Place on the greased baking sheet and brush the tops of the scones with the beaten egg. Bake for about 7 minutes. Transfer immediately to a wire rack to cool.
Serve warm with cream or butter and jam/jelly.