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!


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