Monday, December 8, 2014

Baked Salmon With Dill And Lemon Cream Sauce
Aside from “good genes” one of our secrets to staying slim and healthy weight are eating out less, everything in moderation, and eating light sometimes. I don’t know why but for some reason, I was craving salmon. It’s not often that I eat salmon, but when I do, it’s usually salmon cakes, or salmon sushi, or smoked salmon with crackers. Anyways, back to my craving, I wanted top to it off with a creamy sauce.
As a kid, I was not a big fan of the “fishy” taste that fish can sometimes have. One of the only ways that I would eat fish, is if it was prepared with lemon flavor. One of my favorite fish dishes as a kid was the lemon dipped cod at Chesapeake Bay (restaurant). Yes, I am probably showing my age now as I don’t think that the franchised restaurant exists anymore. I think part of its demise was the “all you can eat” option. However, I remember my family would often go with my Godfather and his closest friends on the weekends. He was a bottomless pit of sorts so we were often there until close and occupied ourselves over by the video games once we finished our meals. Though, the quality changed over the years, it was a very family friendly restaurant with generous seating.
Salmon, similar to steak is rich with a flavor all its own. Therefore, when choosing seasoning combinations, it’s best to go with options that won’t overpower the salmon. With memories of having fish prepared with lemon back then, it was only natural that I wanted lemon and dill. A simple combination that would just enhance its natural flavor. Another thing about salmon is that it is kind of tricky and fussy to work with. The methodology to cooking is simple but it’s easy to overcook. Once you do overcook it, it’s unpleasant in both texture and flavor. One of the easiest ways to prepare salmon is in an aluminum foil packet to ensure even cooking throughout the filet and the maintain a nice texture.
1 Large salmon filet
Kosher salt
Ground black pepper (or fresh ground black peppercorns
1 Large lemon
Sour Cream (Whole 8 oz bar can be used or half depends on preference for thickness of sauce)
Large bunch of fresh dill (weed)
Cream Cheese
1/4 Cup of Milk
2 Tblspns of butter
In a shallow but large baking tray (casserole dish), lay the whole salmon flat and season both sides with kosher salt and pepper. Allow the salmon to marinate for at least a couple of hours. Once salmon has finished marinating, slice lemon into round thin discs. Top the salmon with a few lemon discs and a few sprigs of fresh dill. Seal and enclose the salmon in a foil packet on the baking tray. Bake for at least 20 minutes on 350 degrees.
For the sauce, in a sautee pan, melt 2 tablespoons of butter and at least 4 oz of cream cheese. More can be used for a thicker and more cheesier sauce. Add 2 tablespoons of sour cream and mix well. Then stir in 1/4 cup of milk. At this point, I added a small lemon wedge and 2 sprigs of fresh dill. However, you can add 2 teaspoons of lemon juice.
Once the salmon is done, open foil and slice the filet into smaller portions. Serve warm and topped with the lemon and dill cream sauce. Suggested sides: Asparagus or a nice fresh caprese salad. Enjoy!

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

A Trip to Shannon's Market

It was Thanksgiving week. My Godfather was already here and my sister was on her way down with her kids (my niece and nephews). My Godfather had initial plans to go to Showcase of Citrus in Clermont. Instead, he found some place closer to get his raw peanuts and red oranges. He let us know that there was a wide array of produce as well as other essentials that we would need for our Thanksgiving Dinner.
As papa Smurf and I drove through Z-Hills to get there, it’s a very sleepy and no frills town. Alot of senior communities and trailer parks. When we arrived to the market, we pulled up on a cute little red open air barn, with a dirt and gravel parking lot. Once we entered we were pleasantly surprised. All I could think in my head at that moment was “Holy produce!” Not only did Shannon’s have everything that we would need comprised in a myriad of produce but a selection of items I had not ever seen before. This selection included, cranberry beans (a fuschia speckled with lime green bean), prickly pears (cactus pears), Chinese eggplant, red yams, and another fuschia colored item that resembled sea urchins. Just to name a few things I had not seen before in my foodie life.  For every food item you can often find three or more variations; For instance, cabbage, red cabbage, and bok choy. Then there are green beans, pole beans, and as I shared earlier their cousins the cranberry beans lol. For yams, there are plain yams, golden yams, red yams, and oriental yams (purple in color I had never seen oriental yams before either). For onions, there are white onions, yellow onions, red onions, and shallots. With the fruits I noticed three different types of pears, red pears, white ones and green ones. Tomatoes and green tomatoes are also available. There is so much variety and everything is so fresh! Fresh herbs are cut straight from their plants. The selection is also abundant. Collard bunches are very very generous. One bunch moreso resembles three. Enough to completely fill a large brown grocery bag. There were lots of tropical and international produce staples available. I could go on and on about the produce. I stumbled upon some refrigerated goodies as well, which included homemade cream butter (just good old cream and salt). plants are also available for sale.

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The customer service is very friendly, inviting, hospitable and warm. If you need any help or have questions about the produce it’s no problem. The owner gave my sister a lesson on prickly pears and cactus pears. She is very knowledgeable, knows her products and produce. At checkout she made sure that we didn’t mix up our cilantro and flat parsely. During our last visit (oh yes, we made two visits in one week), we had all of the littles in tow; which included a 2 year old, 3 year old, and two 5 year olds. All loud and very busy! Shannon came over and offered the kids two baskets of grapes and napkins. One for each cart, as we had the kids situated two to a cart. Anyone who shops with one or two (let alone 4) in this age range knows it can get crazy! The grapes were right on time, and they kept the kids quiet and contained for the rest of the trip.
After our first trip we had our whole cart full of produce for the Thanksgiving meal. The total came up to about $25, jumped to $30 once our extra large bag of string beans were added. For a cart full we knew very well at one of the chain stores we could have spent about $75 or more easy! So for us the price was right and we will definitely be back!

Friday, November 7, 2014

"She Wants Her Some Fried Green Tamaters..."

One thing I can say as a foodie, that I love about Florida so far, is the abundance of farm fresh produce at cheap prices! After church on Sunday we finally stopped by a produce stand that we always drive past on Old Pasco. We ended up getting two big huge bunches of collards, a bag of yellow squash, and a bag of sweet potatoes all for only $5! I saw that they were also selling green tomatoes! Which are hard to come by sometimes in the regular grocery chains. And no sooner than I asked Papa Smurf could we please get some, the farmer says matter of in a joking but knowing tone, “She wants her some fried green tomaters!”. I most certainly wanted them and for that exact reason lol. I really like fried green tomatoes. Papa Smurf on the other hand does not. They are an acquired taste though, so I was not surprised. My mother, though a New England states native, her cuisine and cooking style included not only New England style seafood, and Italian; but also there were a lot of southern staples, delicacies, and comfort foods that she would prepare for us. She was influenced by my Nana Fran’s Kansas City BBQ and spicy flavors, though she is a bit milder with her heat and can’t hang with Nana’s spice lol. 

It was from my mother that I had the first experience of tasting fresh fried green tomatoes. She would use a lighter dusting for hers, but I decided that I would double dip between the egg wash, flour, and yellow cornmeal when I prepared mine. I’ll divulge another cooking secret for this recipe, I soak the tomatoes in salted and peppered water before frying ;-) 

Fried Green Tomatoes Recipe


Fresh green tomatoes (I used only 4) 
1-2 Cups of Cornmeal
1-2 Cups of Flour
2 Eggs 
Hot Sauce (just use your favorite)
Kosher Salt
Ground Black Pepper
1 Tblspn Cajun Seasoning Blend (preferably salt free)
Large non stick frying pan
1 Qt Canola Oil 


Rinse and cut the green tomatoes into quarter inch thick round discs. Or you can cut them to the thickness of your choosing though it’s better not to cut them too thick. Soak the tomato discs in a large bowl of water. Before adding the water, salt the tomatoes with 1 tblspn of kosher salt and 2 teaspoons of ground black pepper. Soak the tomatoes for at least 15 minutes. During this time, I usually prep my frying oil, cornmeal and flour. I soak the tomatoes because of the texture of green tomatoes, I find that it is better to allow them to soak for a bit in order to season them. Prep your flour by only adding pinches of salt and pepper sparingly. Add your unsalted Cajun seasoning blend to the cornmeal. Beat two eggs in a bowl. I chose to leave the egg wash unseasoned. I used a regular frying pan in place of my deep fryer to fry the tomatoes. I like the texture of the fried green tomatoes better when using a frying pan instead of my deep fryer. There is something about using an old fashioned skillet to prepare them lol. Though, a deep fryer can be used if preferred. 

Make sure your frying pan has at least 1 ½ inches (depth) of oil in and around it. As a seasoned cook, I usually know that the oil is ready when a sprinkle of cornmeal makes the oil sizzle. However, a technical rule of thumb is to allow the oil to reach a temperature of 350 degrees (esp for those using a deep fryer). 

First, dip the tomato in the egg wash, then dredge in the flour, and then into the cornmeal. Shake off the excess, but make sure that the tomato is nicely coated. Fry in batches of 4 if you are using a frying pan, larger batches can be done if using a deep fryer. You want to fry the tomatoes until they are a light golden brown. Flip the tomatoes after they have cooked about 2-3 minutes on each side to achieve this perfectly fried coating. Remove and set aside on a paper towel or unused clean brown paper bags to soak up the excess oil and keep them crisp. Once the batches are all done, serve hot with a dash of hot sauce or your favorite dipping sauce. Enjoy! 

Saturday, October 18, 2014

The Fresh Market and Stepping Out Of My Comfort Zone

Yet another long overdue post. I really did not know what I was getting into with adding video. However, I always knew that once I had kicked off this blog it was definitely a feature that I wanted to incorporate. Sometimes we just know that we want something but don’t realize what goes into it, especially the hard work that goes into it as well as the time. For myself, it’s mostly a timing thing. It will take some time as I juggle, balance and gain better resources. But as the president of an old banking institution that I used to work for years back would say “You gotta use what brung ya to the game”; put simply you have to use what you have. One of the hardest things for me to do is step out of my comfort zone, yet one of the easiest things for me to do is just be myself. The day we went to The Fresh Market at Wiregrass I decided to step out of my comfort zone and film our very first footage for our food and travel “vlog” to supplement our blog. I learned alot, it will be a continuous learning experience. I am sure the videos will get even better with time. Based on observing our interactions during our make shift recording I have decided on a few things I may invest in like a monopod and tripod. 

As for the main topic at hand, The Fresh Market itself. We attended The Fresh Market at The Shops At Wiregrass on October 18th for the first time. We loved it! The more we explore and venture out down here, we find places, things, and experiences that remind us of home while also making us feel more at home here. With November coming up at the time, I was already disappointed that we wouldn’t be attending The Metropolitan Cooking and Entertaining Show back home in D.C. Despite not having as many kitchen gadgets for sale The Fresh Market came quite close though somewhat better. An open air foodie’s paradise especially for the healthy foodies out there; as well as those who like to indulge. The warm weather and having plenty of space to spread out made this event better. The warm weather meant no freezing your behind off in November D.C. weather as you make the long trek to and from whatever was available for parking. Which usually isn’t anything close to the venue. I figured the lack of kitchen gadgets for sale was okay because that’s what the onsite Williams and Sonoma store was for. 

Overall, it’s brilliant. The Shops at Wiregrass is a very nice open air mall. Family oriented and very aesthetically pleasing shopping venue that already has the steady and heavy foot traffic in place. Therefore, if you vend the traffic is definitely there! As a vendor I have done more than my fair share of events that don’t pan out in that department so just thought that I would share that is definitely not an issue here. They shut down the main boulevard that goes through the mall and align the vendor tents right outside and along the shops. There was lot of fresh produce and fresh herbs. There were holistic herbal, natural remedies and products to  promote healthy eating and living. I made sure to get some kale and string beans. It was hard for me to stay away from the plants but I managed. I also purchased some Summer peach tea from the Urban Tea Gardens. Which led to a later purchase of a tea infuser (which by the way are hard to find in some of your regular chain stores I was surprised). The teas had very rich aromas that would just draw you in. The fall aromas reminded me of the real fall season as it is likely occurring back home, cool weather with red orange and yellow leaves the whole nine. 

I purchased and olive tapenade with blue cheese from Joy’s Gourmet to include with my antipasto. The olive tapenade was so flavorful and rich with olive oil, garlic and blue cheese chunky and creamy with just a small bit of bite to it. They had a chipotle mayo dressing that we really liked as well. The chipotle mayo was very robust in flavor with a perfect balance of heat from the vinegar based chipotle pepper blend used and would be a great condiment for sandwiches. 

The live music gave the event a bit of ambiance. There were a myriad of cuisines available from Mediterranean, Thai, Vegan, New England style seafood (ie: lobster rolls, clam chowder), Greek, Italian, and Caribbean. It was a great experience and event. Now that we know what the event is about and that it occurs monthly, we will definitely be back again. If you are a foodie and ever in the burbs of Tampa (Wesley Chapel) be sure to check out The Fresh Market at The Shops At Wiregrass, you definitely will not be disappointed.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

A Trip To The ‘Butcher Shop’ = Live Blue Crabs

“We live in the middle of nowhere…” is something that I always find myself telling family and friends back home whenever they ask about whereabouts we live amidst the outskirts of the Tampa Bay area. Yet, at the same time, it may be a bit of an over stretch because we live close enough that if we choose to venture out to different parts of the city it isn’t a major ordeal. Anyways, we first became curious about this “Butcher Shop” upon receiving a coupon flier in the mail. The prices seemed so good, almost too good to be true.

So we set out in the middle of the week one evening and the address led us down the Bruce B. Downs (#BBD). We didn’t know that the Bruce B. Downs changes so immensely…drastically so only 20 minutes down! First, we passed through Tampa palms, which is a beautiful neighborhood. It seems a little older and a golf course community. There are subdivisions, very tall palms, and palm lined entrances. The palms tower over tower higher than the lamp posts and even the power lines. Ten minutes away from Tampa palms, there is a change like almost night and day. University City aka Suitcase City is a rough little area. It was kind of crazy to google “University City USF” and find travel advisories, warnings, etc. It does have it’s fare share of sub-urban sprawl and looks a little run down. Just be aware of your surroundings, don’t bother folks and they won’t bother you, do what you gotta do and go.

We checked out the “Butcher Shop”, Meat Depot. It wasn’t a bad place it just wasn’t what I expected and not what I was used to. Customer service was great , the guys were really friendly. They have package deals and family plans in which they allow substitutions. There was also a large amount of international grocery products, seasonings, and ingredients. The smell is nauseating and will overcome you. It’s not a rotten smell but it’s just raw. My husband, Papa Smurf assured me that this was to be expected, I had never been to a butcher shop before. Anyways, papa Smurf was beyond elated to find a pleasant surprise that they sold live blue crabs! He was so excited, he’s a crab fanatic…a crab-a-holic! He even makes his own dipping sauce and we haven’t had any crabs since we left Maryland. Crab prices start at $15.99/ doz. I was shocked! Let me tell you, we have been to some restaurants in “suburbia” where we live that have prices that will make your eyes twitch or your face freeze in place with mouth gaping wide. Anyways, the crabs were indeed alive, fresh, and tasted great once we steamed them.

Back home in Maryland, blue crabs and Old Bay seasoning are staples! In Maryland, Old Bay is put on everything, there are Old bay French fries (of course with malt vinegar, and ketchup too), Old Bay rotisserie chicken, Old Bay fried chicken, even Old Bay bagged potato chips sold in stores. Steamed crabs are a major part of Summers in Maryland, they are the stars of #BBQs and of course their namesake crab feasts. There are a number of all you can eat crab houses back home as well. Crab cakes are a common treat, there’s also crab dip and cream of crab soup. Jumbo lump is the way to go when it comes to these crabby treats! And authenticity is key when it comes to a real Maryland style crab cake, which usu has an even balance of breading and jumbo lump crab meat. I will have to get in depth and share some of these Maryland blue crab delicacies in the near future. Today, I will share with you the an “easy peasy” steamed blue crab recipe and of course Papa Smurf’s Condiment Dump Dipping Sauce.

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1-2 Dozens of Live Blue Crabs
2 Tablespoons of Old Bay Seasoning
2 Fresh bay leaves
1 1/2 Cups of Vinegar (we used apple cider vinegar)
1/2 Can of beer (just use your favorite)
2-3 Cups of Water (enough to cover the entire pot….making the liquid a total of 2-3 inches deep)
A large tall stock pot or steamer pot with a lid

I have to warn you that live crabs are feisty! I still have memories of my father with his flimsy tongs vs feisty crabs with their pinchers and claws; and one of the crabs who running for the stairs. This happened when my great grandmother Florine came to visit all the way from California. With that bit of nostalgia being shared, don’t even attempt to put the into a boiling stockpot unless you are either an experienced crab steamer or you understand that an injury is likely. The method is simple, you just pour all of your ingredients into the pot, sprinkle the crabs with old bay seasoning (to your taste). Secure the lid, boil and steam on high heat for at least 20 mins, until the crabs are orange red and no longer blue (and no longer moving of course). Remove from the stock pot,, spread out the newspaper, crack out the mallets, and enjoy! Or try with…

Papa Smurf’s Condiment Dump Dipping Sauce...

2 Cups of Mayonnaise
2 tsp of Old Bay seasoning
2 Capfuls of Vinegar
2 tblspns of Ketchup
1-2 tblspns of Mustard
Mix all ingredients well in a small bowl and serve chilled with steamed crabs.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Breakfast With Smurfie #Couples Rituals

Breakfast has always been the husband’s way of showing his love. Well one of many ways. It’s not unusual to wake up to breakfast in bed or on a lazy morning sipping my coffee while he cooks. It works for me because breakfast is one of my favorite meals of the day. Sometimes I will even make breakfast for dinner…yes, it’s that deep, my love for breakfast that is. Our schedule has changed and it can get quite busy so I’m grateful for these #offdays (and late start days too). These days, on a typical #offday he will see Juliana off to her bus. Then, he will usually return with two cups of coffee in tow. His specialty is pancakes with sausage. Or he will serve up my favorite scrambled eggs (not too soft not too hard) with bacon baked to perfection; toast also baked---we don’t have a toaster yet---topped with my favorite grape jelly. Yes, I said baked bacon lol. If you don’t know you better ask somebody! If you have fried it but haven’t tried it, I urge you to bake your bacon! It’s less mess, no grease splatters and virtually no shrinkage!

After breakfast, we will usually venture out exploring around our neighborhood, window shopping, driving without a destination (#DWD), or look at open houses from new builders. There are quite a bit of new homes down here in our neighborhood as the area is fairly new and experiencing major residential and commercial growth. Though, most of our open house ventures take place after church on Sundays now.

I was inspired by an episode of The Chew that aired this past week. I decided that this Friday (#offday) I would make breakfast this time and that I would make homemade biscuits with sausage gravy and “over light” eggs. Papa Smurf loves his eggs just so, he prefers them soft. I have another cooking tip to share, this time it will be about eggs. But I will get to that later. Anyways, I was inspired by Chef Michael Symon on The Chew but I made it my own. Cooking for me is like interpretive dance to a musical masterpiece. Because let’s face it, almost everything has been done before. I watch a recipe on tv, read one in a book or online. I see a culinary masterpiece and then I cook it the way I see it, I play around with seasonings, extra ingredients to enhance the flavors and make it my own.

Sausage Gravy
1 fresh ground pork sausage roll (I used Jimmy Dean)
1 bunch of fresh scallions (green onions) chopped
1 tsp of sage
1/2 to 1 tsp of ground peppercorns (I used McCormick’s peppercorn medley)
1/2 to 1 tsp ground coriander and fennel (this is usu in the peppercorn medley so I am listing it in case you may be using a plain peppercorns)
1 pint whipping cream
1-2 cups of water

2 cups of flour (all purpose)
4 tblspns of  butter (cold and cubed)
1 tsp salt
1 tsp baking powder 
3/4 cups of milk or buttermilk
1 egg beaten
1/4 cup of water

Mix all of your dry ingredients together until evenly distributed. Next, add in your wet ingredients until you have a sticky lumpy dough. The dough should not be smooth or dry. A tip to consider is adding in your liquids slowly and gradually to achieve the right texture. Once your biscuit dough is at the consistency that you like you can either just use a scoop or large spoon to take out your dough and arrange it on a baking sheet. Or you can roll it out on a floured surface and use a biscuit cutter. I prefer the first method as it it fuss free. Bake at 375 degrees for 20-25 minutes until golden brown on the edges. If you would like to keep your biscuits warm you can return them to the oven on a Warm/Keep Warm setting. Most ovens have a Warm/WM setting or you can set it to below 200 degrees.

Now for the biscuit gravy. In a large skillet brown your sausage. I added in a little over half of the scallions once the sausage was 3/4 of the way done to avoid burning the scallions; but still allow for caramelization and for the flavors to blend. I reserved the rest for a garnish. Once the sausage is browned reduce heat to a low/med low setting to simmer. Do not drain the oil from the sausage, you will need these drippings to make your gravy (at least a more flavorful one). Add 2-3 tablespoons of flour and whisk quickly. It will be ready once it turns a dirty blonde in color. Be sure not to let it burn. Next, add the whipping cream and whisk well to work all of the lumps in the cooked flour and to evenly distribute. Next, slowly add 1-2 cups of water to get the consistency that you would like for your gravy to have. It should have a little thickness to it. Reduce the heat to low, add in sage, kosher salt, ground peppercorns, and coriander. Be careful not to over season your gravy! Remember the ground sausage is already well seasoned. Cook on a low heat and simmer for 35-40 minutes to get rid of the raw flour taste. Taste your gravy to make sure it has the right flavor. One of my other secrets to cooking is that I taste and smell EVERYTHING! Measuring only gets you so far, and what good is it to get your measuring just right but your food tastes bad! Taste matters! LOL
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 My secrets to the perfect “over light” egg…
I can’t remember from whom or where I learned this technique but it’s been in my repertoire for quite a few years. My secret is….WATER! Yes, water. Something so simple huh? But it works wonders in helping you achieve the perfect texture for over light eggs. I start off by frying the eggs sunny side using just enough oil to coat the surface in a small to medium sized non stick frying pan over medium high heat. I drop the eggs in carefully so as not to break the yolks (this is also key). Then I add a pinch of salt and pepper to the top of the eggs while they are still raw (so the seasoning can melt in, also tastes better this way). As the edges firm up, and I begin to see a small ring of toast forming; and the whites are set like a firm gelatin pudding no longer liquid like but a solid white I know they are ready. So I slowly add water, just 1/4 to a 1/2 cup around the sides and bottom of the pan. Do not pour the water directly over the eggs or you will break the yolks. So basically I finish cooking the eggs with water and steam. The water should be just enough to coat the bottom of the pan. Then cover the pan and cook over a reduced low heat and cook for an additional 2 minutes at the most. You can check the eggs during this time they should mirror the photo as far as looks. A little thin covering of the whites may coat your yolks but this is okay, the yolks will not be broken. You are mostly doing this to maintain the soft texture, prevent burning or over crispy egg whites. The other plus to this technique is that your eggs should slide right out, you shouldn’t even need a spatula.

Assembly: On a plate, place your biscuit, then top with sausage gravy, scallions and eggs. You may add salt and pepper to your eggs (to taste) again if needed or wanted. Enjoy!

~~Follow me on Instagram #TastingWithTheTaylors~~~

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Birthday Beach Weekend With Julie and Julia

So last weekend was my birthday weekend, no turning up went down, it was just very low key and relaxing. After the husband baked a batch of my favorite red velvet cupcakes and had fun playing with our cake decorator pen; we got the kids together. Then we headed out to Madeira Beach. We befriended one of Juliana's classmate's/ tablemate's parents, Randal got in touch with the Dad over the weekend and he suggested Madeira Beach.

John's Pass Boardwalk Village

Madeira Beach is a unique place. It's a lazy beach town, not unusual to come across shops that are closed with a personal note on the door like "out sick" or "out for family affairs today"...followed by apologies. The best asset of the beach is definitely its boardwalk village "John's pass" which has lots of character. I really loved the way the restaurants are all wood planked and have deck seating that faces the waterfront. There are lots of shops and the owners are very friendly. They mostly stand outside and people watch or enjoy the fresh air. If you enter their shop they will come in and greet you. Then, just leave you to browse and don't tail you as you do so. They aren't pushy or rude either. I LOVED that! I ended up buying a personalized locket from a jeweler. She gave me a discount after I shared that I recently moved to Florida. I missed out on the spice shop but hope to go back soon. I love spices and would be so lost in the kitchen without them!

The beach itself is just okay but the birds are something else! And I don't mean that in a good way! I have to warn you they are like the birds you see in that scene in Finding Nemo as they all scream "Mine! Mine! Mine!" but these birds were more like a John Singleton flick rather than Disney! There was a whole gang of them, they swooped down low over us as we ate our picnic lunch. And were even so bold as to peck into my son's Cheetos bag as he held it in his little hands. A large flock followed me to the trash can as I dumped chicken bones and paper plates. I'll be honest, I just tossed the plates in the trash can haphazardly as I ran for my life! Scared to be pecked to death lol. Don't bring food here!

I was watching Julie and Julia over the weekend for the very first time flipping through channels. I thoroughly enjoyed that movie! I was able to relate to both of the main characters in so many ways. The irony of just discovering this movie was all in the fact that I recently started a food blog though a few years ago it was just an idea in my head that I hadn't gotten around to yet. Ladies, I have to tell you life gets busy but as far as the creative ideas/ things you want to do that just get stored in the back of your head get out and do them! Life gets busy but sometimes we just need to keep things that we do for ourselves, regardless of what they are if its creative and you enjoy it, do it!

I started this blog to get back to blogging and to write about my interests, food, dining out, and travel. I had a personal blog years back that did not have a theme. It was originally created to keep in touch with a friend who moved to another state. I made a couple of good friends from that blog. And just like Julia, I have an "Avis" in my life thanks to that blog! She lives in NY and is now blogging again but for a cause/ support group she has started (My Mommyvents ). I was able to relate to other things like Julie's reaction and emotions to turning 30, to the frustration with her tiny apartment over the pizzeria, coming face to face with things that come up as you learn to be careful what you post in your blog. I was also able to relate to Julia, as she navigated a foreign place yet felt right at home at times. Then the simple things like she liked hats, I like hats. Later, as she came into her own, finding something just for herself (outside of being a housewife). I have juggled from at times being a "Domestic Diva" (aka housewife) to being a working mother and wife.

I made a simple dinner of cajun roasted chicken, tostones, and a kiwi-strawberry poppyseed salad for Sunday dinner. Though I was experimenting the salad came out exceptionally well! If I do say so myself :) I'll just give a run down of the salad and some tips about the tostones.


Kiwi-Strawberry Poppyseed Salad

Fresh kiwi (cut into small slices)
Fresh sliced strawberries
1 Cup of walnuts (plain)
1 Bag of fresh Spring Mix Salad Greens
1/2 Cup of your favorite poppyseed salad dressing (I used Panera brand)
Toss all of your ingredients together, the dressing as well. Cover your salad bowl, and shake everything up. I avoided using candied walnuts because once the poppyseed dressing is added it will really sweeten the greens as well as the fruit. Candied walnuts may be a bit overkill but it will depend on your taste buds. While I enjoy sweets my taste buds are like a moderator to my sweet tooth.

Lessons in Tostones...
I don't know how many times I #failed with green plantains/ tostones before I stumbled across a recipe on pinterest that saved my life! The trick is to boil them whole first! Something that I did not ever do during each subsequent #fail. Boiling will get the green plantain to tenderize, and to be less thick and tough. It will help the middle be more crisp on the outside and smash on the inside like a home fry. After the plantains cool from boiling, slice them in small round slices (like thick chips). Next, you want to smash each plantain with a fork to flatten them out some. Once flattened, somewhat, you will fry them in oil and add a little kosher salt to the tops as they fry (use the salt sparingly). Serve hot! In the words of Julia Child "Bon Appetite!"

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Sunday Dinner Worthy Blanco Mac N' Cheese

This post is long overdue! I really wanted to post it sooner. I had a birthday this past week on the 15th! The whole day I just couldn't stop thinking over and over..."So this is 30!?". It's a mixed bag that I won't get into this post. Our weekdays are so busy I knew that I wouldn't be able to celebrate until the weekend. I was hoping to hit the beach and dine out at a really good restaurant. I also found a nice piece of furniture that I really wanted. We found it at a local consignment shop in New Tampa that has become a favorite of ours. We're still furnishing our place.

Anyways, I made a white macaroni and cheese to go with the porkchops (it's pictured as the side in the last post); which was also once again me stepping outside of the norm and our typical box. I usually make a cheddar based macaroni and cheese with colby jack. Sometimes I make it even better with bacon on top. Usually that topping makes its appearance around the holidays, afterall everything in moderation. Ever since I saw the Neely's make their macaroni with a homemade cheese sauce it changed my life! One of my issues with a baked macaroni was getting a good coating of all the macaroni. With a cheese sauce, it helps rid your macaroni and cheese of bland uncoated macaroni and the dry crunchy ones too. Another plus to using a cheese sauce is contrary to what some may believe it doesn't result in a liquidy mac and cheese like the stove top boxed stuff. Once everything sets together the results will be a fluffy and moist macaroni and cheese with creamy goodness. I have to warn that the 4 cheese Italian blend has an aroma that can be a bit strong for some.


1 1/2 - 2 cups 4 cheese Italian blend
 1 cup of shredded mozzarella
 1/3 cup of parmesan cheese
 1 Quart of milk
 2 tablespoons of butter
1 tblspn of flour
 1 tsp of kosher salt
1 tsp of pepper (ground black)
1 large box of elbow macaroni (capitavi style work best because of the tiny grooves)

One of the keys to a good macaroni and cheese is not over cooking your pasta! Over cooking your pasta can ruin any macaroni and cheese. The reason being because it can ruin the texture and turn your noodles to mush, bits, and corners. You want to boil your macaronis until they are soft but not mushy, some call this aldente. If you slice a piece of pasta you can see just where the the texture and coloration begin to change. There should not be a crunch to your pasta but a bit of firmness at the center that you can see when the pasta is sliced. Boiling your pasta for no more than 3 minutes should achieve this texture.

Another key to achieving good texture is to run cold water over your pasta as you strain it, in addition you want to make sure there is no water left where the pasta is sitting on reserve. I usually spread the pasta out into a casserole dish at this point. The cheese sauce is rather easy. In a large saucepan you want to melt 2 tablespoons of butter over medium high heat until it sizzles. Then you want to add your tablespoon of flour. You want to whisk together to make a rue, the flour will be moist, clumpy and blonde in color when ready for the next step. Next, add in a half quart of milk. You want to whisk the clumps together to evenly distribute with the milk. Make sure that your temperature is not too hot or your milk will curdle ruining the sauce (meaning it will get grainy and your cheese will be gum and not sauce). After, you want to slowly add in your cheese blend and whisk briskly. You want to toggle your milk and cheese to get the right consistency. The consistency should be like a thick queso (basically like a nacho cheese sauce, when a utensil is placed in the sauce and taken out you should notice a bit of stretch), you may want to add your salt and pepper to the sauce and use an icing spatula at this point forward.

Next you want to remove the sauce from the heat as soon as the desired consistency is achieved to avoid grainy milk curdles and cheese gum! Slowly pour the sauce over your pasta and stir in. Add half of the shredded  mozzarella cheese in. Add some shreds to the top of your macaroni. You can also top with the Italian breadcrumbs. Once finished bake your macaroni and cheese at 350 degrees for at least 30 minutes. After the dish is baked allow it to cool for at least 10 minutes to set. If you don't allow the dish to set then there will be cheese and macaroni sliding everywhere lol. Allowing the dish to set will make it easier to serve in squares. Enjoy!

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Spiced Rosemary and Garlic Porkchops...


In between bulk shopping (which I try to do at least once a month) on familiar turf at Sam's Club, we navigate the local grocery chains which happen to be unfamiliar, Publix, Winn Dixie, just to name a few. Of course, none of the grocery chains from back home are located in this region. I have to say I really do miss Wegman's! There just isn't anything like it here. However, nothing beats the fresh local produce from local farmers so I guess that is our trade off. Anyways, Winn Dixie was having a "BOGO" on porkchops and the husband wanted them so in the cart (or buggy as they call them down here) they went.

All I could think of was "Oh no! Not pork chops again!?" I don't know where the over indulgence stemmed from but I was "pork chopped" out! I had been over them for quite some time now. What do you do when you're tired of a food item yet are faced with having no other choice than to prepare it yet again? You put a new spin on it and prepare it in a new way. So I got to browsing online for inspiration (mostly Pinterest and Food network). I usually browse for inspiration and then try to make a recipe my own, I rarely follow it to a "t" unless I don't have familiarity with the cooking process or ingredients. Typically we fry our pork chops and/or smother them in gravy, which has been over done and also requires care. Porkchops are one of those meats that can get pretty dry and that's sugarcoating it because honestly Porkchops can become damn near unpalatable if you're not careful in your preparation. You can have yourself a fine cut of cardboard and sliced splinters.

Randal has two jobs as a cook at two different restaurants now, it's been almost a month at the second venue. He has been picking up alot of new skills to add to his growing cooking skill set. He told me that part of the prepping process at the second venue is that they do alot of "braising of the proteins" (meats). He makes me proud, soon he'll be teaching me new things. At the second venue they mostly work with other white meats such as turkey and chicken. Meats that are notorious for drying out if not prepped and cooked properly. I was first introduced to braising when my mother would make beef short ribs or roasts for Sunday dinners, which were always so tender and flavorful. I love braising meats because it locks in the juices, keeps them tender and can magnify the flavor.


5 Bone-in pork chops
1 tsp black pepper
4 sprigs of fresh rosemary
3 mashed cloves of garlic
2 tblspns of extra virgin olive oil
1 tsp of allspice
1 tsp of nutmeg
1 or 1/2 tsp of kosher salt

First you want to season your chops. I usually start with the salt, pepper and oil. Then, I mash my garlic cloves in the garlic press and work in the mashed garlic shreds. I work everything in by rubbing all of the seasonings into the meat so as to evenly distribute and get a good season. I add the nutmeg and allspice next. Last, I add the rosemary leaves without the stems in the same manner. Then, I cover the chops and let them marinate in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes to an hour.

After the chops have marinated, prep an oven safe saute or saucepan over medium high heat. Begin, braising your chops...basically, you only want to brown the chops and not cook them through. The juices will still run red or pink if you poke the chop and that is okay. You can achieve this by cooking the chops no longer than 2-3 minutes on each side and removing from the heat immediately. If your pan is oven safe then add a half cup of water to the juices, enough to fill the bottom of the  pan. Return the chops to the pan or an oven safe casserole dish (or dutch oven). Bake at 350-375 degrees for 30 minutes (until juices run clear). Don't allow the your baking container of choice to dry out causing your chops to dry out keep it moist if juices and water evaporates. Top pork chops with baked or fried apples ( the nutmeg and allspice were used to complement this topping). Enjoy!

~Stay tuned for the side dish recipe entry “Blanco Mac n' Cheese"

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Ricotta and Italian Sausage Stuffed Calzones

It was the end of the Labor Day weekend, and most people were out getting the last savors of summer from swimming to barbecuing back home in Maryland. Randal had to work both restaurants Monday so I decided to catch up my blog entries with at least one of the recipes that I had previously written though I didn't get around to posting just yet. It's quite toasty down here in Florida with temperatures as high as 94 degrees almost daily. From what my neighbors tell me there will be no relief from those high temps until as late as November. So I take it there will plenty of time to continue barbecuing and swimming down here.

I had made a baked lasagna the week before this recipe came to fruition. I took a trip to Sam's to buy the ingredients because I intended to make a large batch of it so that I could freeze it for the week; to have for lunch or dinner again. My husband loves lasagna and will eat it until it's gone! I make a mean lasagna thanks to my mother showing how it was done when I was young. I learned yesterday while watching The Chew that often times if you cook with your children in the kitchen, involve them or allow them to watch you they will be more open to trying new foods. In my case not only will they be more open to having an adventurous palette but they will also develop an even more adventurous cooking repertoire of their own. Needless to say, some are just picky you could show them the culinary world and they just want their burger, chicken nuggets, or pizza slice. Calzones come very close to a pizza slice and will probably please any pizza lover just the same.

I had alot of ingredients leftover like ricotta cheese, mozzarella, and Italian sausage. Often that is what happens when you shop in bulk. It can be a dual edged sword but it's a necessity especially when you cook as often as we do and make things in large batches. Anyways, I had frozen everything that was unused along with the leftover lasagna except for the mozzarella. I will be honest and say that this recipe originated from a #Fail attempt at creating homemade ravioli pasta from scratch. I think the main source of my failure was that I just didn't get the dough flat enough, and as I cooked them they turned into dumplings. My husband tried to fry the raviolis and it was just a hot mess lol. It happens to us too. We have those moments in the kitchen. The best way to recover along with the best thing to do is to re-purpose what you already have before you start over. And that is just what I did! I had alot of the ricotta and sausage stuffing mixture leftover to re-purpose.

A Useful Method:
One of the methods used in this recipe really changed my life. I try to use as much fresh ingredients as I can when I can. I could remember when an old Facebook acquaintance had commented on my usage of canned stewed tomatoes. I was watching Disney Junior one night with the kids. The cooking segmnent that comes on in between commercials. Anyways, that's where I learned how to stew tomatoes! You take your two tomatoes and make an "x" at the top with a knife, you can even use a butter knife. Next, you boil them in hot water until they blister (3 mins). Then you remove the tomatoes from the water and place them in an ice bath. You peel the skin off and they are ready to use!


4 Italian sausages (meat removed from casings and cooked to crumbles)
2 stewed tomatoes (vine ripe or romas)
1 cup of "rich tomato puree" (2 tomatoes, 2 tblspns of olive oil, 2 cloves of garlic, 4 basil leaves, 3 sprigs of fresh oregano leaves---dry will also work. You can make this ahead of time and keep on reserve)
1/4 cup of Italian breadcrumbs
1 quart of ricotta cheese
2 cups of self rising all purpose flour
1-2 cups of shredded mozzarella

I started making a dough using all purpose flour and Italian breadcrumbs in a bowl, I added a tsp of canola oil and 1 large egg. Then, I slowly added ice water mixing until I had a nice sticky but moldable dough. I set the dough aside in a ziplock in the refrigerator to rest for at least half an hour. I made a homemade sauce from stewed tomatoes and a rich tomato puree`; you can make this ahead of time or allow it to cook down on a medium low heat for at least 30 mins. This allows all of the flavors to render (combine) together. Some will cook their sauces for longer like 45 mins to an hour. You want to becareful not to cook the sauce on a temperature that is too high because the sauce can burn and taste bitter.

My ricotta and Italian sausage mixture was already made ahead of time, however I will give a quick run through of how it was done. I removed four Italian sausages from the casings and cooked down to crumbles until browned. I mixed them in with the ricotta cheese and added a pinch of kosher salt and pepper (to taste).

Once the dough had enough time to rest, I rolled it out into 2 large discs. You may want to work on a surface dusted with flour. I allowed the sauce to remain somewhat chunky (the consistency of sauce will be a personal preference). I topped one half of the disc with a generous amount of the ricotta and sausage mixture, followed by tomato sauce and shredded mozzarella. I folded the other half over, and sealed the seam by pressing down on the edges of the dough. A fork can be used. When finished, you should have a nice crescent shape. I baked until each calzone was a golden brown. You can dust the outside of the calzone with butter and an Italian seasoning blend. You could also brush with egg if you like. However, I did not dust with egg. I baked until both calzones were a golden brown (at least 35 mins). Then allow to cool for 5 mins. Enjoy!

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Grilled Cheese With Spinach and Bacon

We were very excited about the first day of school this year. So much so that we even attended "Meet The Teacher Day" and everything. Down here in Florida, we started a week earlier than many of our family and friends' children back home in Maryland. We have an “all day" kindergartner this year! Our daughter Julie, it's her first school experience and she has to go all day from 9:45 am to 3:45 pm. It's a long day and I miss her but it's a good miss. Anyways, as a mother there is nothing more disappointing associated with school (aside from bad behavior and poor grades) than when we open our little ones lunch boxes to clean them out and find a half eaten lunch. But I think in Julie's case, it came with first day jitters.

I usually like to assemble lunch the night before. I was ready and game; I wasn't going to strike out again this time. I started thinking what does she really like? What do we have in our refrigerator? Moreover, how can I spin it and be creative while still creating something that she actually likes? I had alot of this 4 cheese Italian cheese blend and spinach left over from my sister's visit.  She had prepared a chicken alfredo for us with a side of fresh sauteed spinach with garlic. There is nothing like fresh spinach, once you've had it you probably won't go back to the canned or the frozen stuff anymore. My sister, she can shop, is a whiz at stocking a fridge and pantry but often times she is reluctant to do so because sometimes she feels she may go a little overboard. However, the one good thing is that you won't ever starve in her home or in her company lol. There was also bacon in the refrigerator and again lots of it. My kids love bacon! I mean they really love it. But who doesn't love bacon? So, I decided that I would make a bacon grilled cheese. It was a hit! With orange slices and a cupcake there were not any leftovers in her lunch bag the next day.


2 slices of your favoritewhite bread
1/2 cup of Italian 4 cheese blend (aged provolone, asiago, parmesan, and romano)
2 slices of bacon (thick sliced and halved to make 4 sandwich sized slices)
1 tblspn  sauteed fresh spinach
1 tblspn of salted butter (enough to coat a small frying or saute` pan)

I like to cook my bacon in the oven. It doesn't shrink up as bad and it burns off much of the oil. Above all no grease wars leaving you victimized by painful grease spatters. I usually bake it in a baking tray, at a temperature of 350-375 degrees until somewhat crisp and done. Set aside on paper towel to drain. Next, heat up the pan that you have reserved to make your grill cheese, I like to spread/sprinkle a little bit of cheese in the middle of the pan. Then, place a slice of bread over top of it. This will give the bread a crust that is cheesy in flavor (like cheese bread). After, I sprinkle the cheese blend over top of that slice; arrange the bacon slices on top of the cheese. Sprinkle more cheese atop the bacon. Add your second slice of bread, then press with a spatula until slices are sealed with melted cheese. You can sprinkle more cheese on the outside of the sandwich again to create a crusty cheese flavored bread. Toast on both sides until toasted to the color and texture of your liking. Cool, slice and enjoy.


Of course, I made an adult version for myself and added fresh sauteed spinach to the middle of my grilled cheese. The adult version is the actual sandwich pictured. Fresh spinach usually cooks down to nothing, so though you may not need much make sure your have enough. For this dish, you shouldn't need more than 1-2 cups to yield the amount needed. Generally for a basic spinach saute you can use...

1-2 mashed garlic cloves (I love to use my pampered chef garlic press but a spoon can be used)
1-2 tsp of lemon juice
Salt and pepper to taste
1-2 tblspns of salted butter or 1 1/2 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil

Very simple, melt butter or heat oil. Then add in your spinach, garlic, lemon juice, salt and pepper. I usually place the spinach in between a layer of bacon and cheese. And I only use about 1-2 tablespoons of the cooked spinach. Enjoy!

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Ericka's Hot Garlic Wings

My sister drove down over the weekend from Maryland to visit my family and I in Florida. We recently moved this summer and the visit was to bring some of our belongings we left behind. They were also visiting because it was my son Jerry's 3rd birthday. Before we moved, my sister would host full spreads for monthly Sunday dinners. Sometimes, we would each make a dish for the dinners that we considered our specialty. However, most of the time my sister would say "Just bring your appetite". Since moving to Florida, I miss those dinners. It was a busy weekend with all of our little ones, my Julie and her Gio are only 2 days apart, and then Jerry and her youngest Gianni are only 15 months apart. I'm a wing girl! I love good hot wings! Wings are one of my favorite comfort foods so of course a wing recipe had to be one of my first entries. Often times, whenever I order a pizza (Italian style of course), I have to have an order of buffalo wings and fried calamari to go with it.

Anyways, over the weekend, she divulged her wing recipe to me. I was ready to use my deep fryer, but I was disappointed because though the fryer made it down the power cord was missing. Some of the things that she brought down included alot of my kitchen goodies. Well, I didn't let that stop me, I just used a good stock pot. She had already bought the groceries, so I went to work.


1 stick of salted butter
1 Qt or more of canola oil
3 Minced cloves of garlic (I use pampered chef's garlic press)
1 Family pack of wings disjointed and separated (or wingettes can be used)
1 bottle (standard size) of Texas Pete hot sauce
1-2 Tblspns of garlic powder
1-2 Tblspns of onion powder
1 Tspn + 1 pinch of kosher salt (I love kosher salt because a very little goes a long way, I rarely use table salt because of the bitter after taste).
2 Tspns of black pepper

Preparation for the wings is fast once the portions are separated and even faster if wingettes are used. I usually like to give my chicken a good rinse before seasoning. Season wings with salt, pepper, garlic and onion powder. Rub and work in seasonings. You will know if you have seasoned the wing well by the smell of the aromas blended together. Set aside. Next, take the pressed garlic, butter and add to a non stick sauce pan. Do not burn the garlic or it will taste bitter! Butter can also burn as well and lose quality as it browns so maintaining low heat is key. Just allow the butter to melt and the two flavors to render together. After, add the whole bottle of Texas Pete hot sauce, wisk together and simmer on low. It is okay if the butter isn't completely melted, the main objective is to get the two flavors together. Once your oil is hot enough, usually a temperature of at least 350 degrees, begin frying the wingettes in batches. It is best to eyeball the wings, they will be done once they float, are crispy and brown. Drain off the oil, and toss a few wings at a time in the saucepan. Tossing the wings in the hot sauce works best if you work with just a few at a time and not more than a handful of wings. Set sauced wings aside in a bowl; The bowl works best in helping the wings to set and distributing the sauce. Repeat the above, until all of the wings are finished. If the sauce is getting thick be sure to remove from heat, adding water will only diminish your sauce of its robust flavor. As the sauce thickens the bottom of the pan can burn causing the sauce to stick and burn.
I usually love to have my wings with a homemade blue cheese dressing. Although I was unable to make it this day I still decided to share the recipe. I must warn you though, once you have homemade blue cheese dressing it's hard to go back to the bottled stuff.


1/4 Cup of blue cheese crumbles (this amount will depend on your preference for chunkiness)
1 cup of sour cream
Juice from 1 large half of lemon
1/4 tsp of kosher salt (you can add more to your taste)
1/4 tsp of pepper
1/4 Cup (or less) of mayonnaise (you don't want the mixture to be too soupy but chunky and creamy).
The dressing may be a little thick. If it is too thick for your liking then you can add a little less than 1/4 cup of buttermilk. Serve with wings and celery slices. Enjoy!