Thursday, June 25, 2015

St. Pete Beach (Not Your Sleepy Beach Town)...

If you are looking for a sleepy, quiet, or lazy beach town then St. Pete Beach is not for you. There is a busy strip with plenty to do. There are lots of hotels and condos. The Loews Don CeSar is also featured in my vlog, it's a large beautiful salmon pink building that resembles a palace (you can't miss it). The main beach access is off from the Gulf Boulevard, which is the busy strip that I am speaking of. There are big name franchises like Chick-Fil-A, the grocery store (publix), Dollar Tree, and a Japanese Steakhouse is right across the street from main beach access too. There are also several bars and restaurants that line the Gulf Boulevard as well. This was a quick visit so we didn't explore as much. 

View from our lounge chair(s)

As soon as you step foot on the sand, you are greeted by people offering to sell you beach furniture rentals ($25 and under), cabanas and lounge chairs with umbrellas. Between the crazy aggressive and gangster seagulls, if you forgot yours then you better consider renting one to at least try to thwart them off some. However, it's no guarantee, there is still a risk; if you watch our vlog closely you can see the dark shadow of the seagull on the sand as he swooped in under the umbrella and swiped my husband's chicken wing right from the plate in his hand. In the footage, I also get him flying away from close range. The seagulls here are very bold and aggressive. They have no fear and its very concerning just how aggressive they are. Something really should be done about them. Like maybe they can have some biologists come in and survey their behavior and the area. Then perhaps develop a sanctuary if they haven't already where they can be diverted elsewhere for population control. I get that they are in their natural habitat but the level of aggression is concerning and for the most part it's not like people are intentionally feeding them either. I didn't get any additional footage of others, besides ourselves, who nearly had their fingers pecked off as food was ripped from their hands but it was a regular occurrence throughout the day. Followed by swarming and loud squawking and not in the cute Finding Nemo "Mine! Mine! Mine!" scene, nope once again these guys are like a John Singleton flick. Bring food at your own risk! You have been warned!

The sand is soft and powdery in most areas though, there are spots that are covered with sharp, jagged shells. One pierced through the heel of my foot. Ouch! Keep on the flip flops and aqua socks and no one gets hurt! The water is a gorgeous, pristine, emerald green and turquoise blue. It's quite warm, the waves come in and out; they are quite thrilling and just the right speed for kids and adult kids. The TradeWinds Resort is the home of the giant water slide that I also shared in the vlog. The slide provided hours of fun for the resort patrons. There are some watersports close by including parasailing, water tricycles, and jet skis. 

The only downside to this venue was having to pay for parking. Feed the meter because there are patrol cars making their rounds regularly, and they are ready to ticket and tow! We will definitely be back to St. Pete Beach. It's a great beach spot for families. We saw lots of families and 20 somethings while we were there. It's a picturesque beach, great for sun bathing, chilling, playing, a good time to be had by all. 

Thursday, June 18, 2015

The Evolution of My Holiday Baked Mac 'N' Cheese

*Delayed post alert. There has been so much going on back on the homefront in the DMV/Maryland. For those that follow my personal page on Facebook, thanks for the prayers!

Baked macaroni and cheese is one of those things you just cannot mess up or use an "imposter" like "Easy Mac" or "Stouffers" for Sunday or holiday dinners in my family. We're not mean, we can I put it? It's like our pastor at the very first church my husband and I attended faithfully together and called home would say "It's so beautiful when you stay in your lane! Amen somebody! I've got the beverages!" He even yielded some folks to venture over to the neighboring Bojangles for sides when we had family game nights or Superbowl parties. He would say "Bojangles has dirty rice and biscuits...Amen...Amen...Somebody!". As you have probably already concluded, if you weren't blessed in this particular arena, experimenting on the congregation (or victimizing) was not encouraged.

As for our family and Sunday dinners, it's a "Tale of Two Mac's". Usually myself or Ericka is tapped to make the macaroni and cheese. Ericka's has sour cream and mine has a cheese sauce. My recipe is a combination of two baked macaroni and cheese recipes that I tweaked, swapped and merged. I kept what I liked from each, and whatever I did not like I dropped and subbed out. Traditionally growing up we would take the boiled noodles and add the milk, egg, salt, pepper, tablespoon of flour and stir together to coat. The tablespoon of flour was an accidental add in made by Ericka early 2000s and it turned out to be genius! It made the macaroni and cheese extra fluffy. Anyways, after all of the ingredients were added we would top with mild cheddar cheese and bake. *DJ record scratches*

More tweaks over the years, for instance going from 1 cheese to 3 cheeses! Ericka's next tweak, using the sharp cheddar cheese, colby jack and monterrey jack cheeses. She tried cottage cheese once too but decided to stick to her sour cream. By the mid 2000 to late 2000s.

I ditched the sour cream, dared not to even try cottage. I kept the 3 cheese deal, as it took it to a whole other level of 3D cheesiness for a great taste, rich too. However, the downside was that no matter how hard I tried, I still ended up with dry noodles. Aargh! I can't stand a macaroni and cheese dish with dry noodles, it's a pet peeve of mine. But then one day I stumbled across the Neely's Baked Macaroni and Cheese 'dump' and learned a new method. Learning how to make a cheese sauce from a flour and butter roux changed my life! I used their method, and a few add ins of theirs that I liked merging it with our recipe. I ditched alot of things from theirs mainly keeping their cheese sauce method.

For holidays only, like Thanksgiving and Christmas I will top the macaroni and cheese with lightly fried bacon. I let it finish crisping in the oven to give the casserole decadent and a little bit of a smokey flavor.

I've been using this final recipe which is the result of alot of tweaks and some merges since 2010 when my husband and I were in our new home with our baby girl and decided to have our very first Thanksgiving Dinner and start our own tradition.

I knew I nailed it when my husband's best friend nearly fell over the table and fainted. He was silently nodding and smiling through chewing. He liked everything on the plate but he said "the mac n' cheese...its soo good...WOW and it's got kick too what's in it?!" He said it had kick but it was like an undertone, it didn't over power.

My Holiday Baked Macaroni and Cheese

1 1/2 to 2 cups of lightly fried bacon crumbles
1/2 teaspoon of cayenne pepper
1 1/2 pounds of elbow macaroni cooked al dente (if you can find them use the ones with the grooves)
1/2 quart of milk
1 1/2 - 2 lb of mild cheddar cheese (shredded or crumbles) *may or may not use all
1 1/2 -2 lb of Colby and Monterrey jack cheese (shredded or crumbles) *may or may not use all
1 stick of unsalted butter
1 1/2 teaspoons of kosher salt
1 1/2 teaspoons of ground black pepper
1/2 tablespoon of onion powder
2 1/3 cups of flour (All purpose will do)
2-3 dashes of your favorite hot sauce (I used Frank's)
1 teaspoon of paprika

Using a large saucepan melt your butter until it sizzles. Add in your flour and whisk until the flour turns blonde like sandy crumbles. Next, add in your milk; you want to make sure the milk covers at least 1 1/2 - 2 inches in depth of your saucepan. Next, add in all of your seasonings and hot sauce. Stir together until blended in well with the milk. Slowly add in and whisk your cheese crumbles or shreds until your have a sauce that resembles a "queso" for nachos. Do this over low heat to prevent your milk from curdling and your cheese separating and turning into a large ball of cheese gum. It's a low and slow process. The sauce should be thick and stretchy. In a large casserole dish or aluminum baking pan you should have your elbow macaroni on reserve. Slowly pour your cheese sauce over your noodles to coat them generously. Then, I usually add in any leftover cheese in cubes and/or crumbles interspersed here and there discreetly to make my macaroni and cheese extra cheesy! Usually about 1 1/2 - 2 cups of cubes or crumbles. I top it with shredded or thin rectangular slices, and finally top with the bacon crumbles. Last, I bake my macaroni and cheese uncovered for 35-45 minutes at 350 degrees. I allow it to set for at least 15 minutes before serving so that there won't be noodles and cheese sliding everywhere and to get nice neat squares. The cheese sauce should firm up to be almost custard like after you allow the casserole to set.

**Yields a large portion, can feed up to 8-12. 

Check out my video for my method.

I am slowly building up my kitchen gadgets and still replacing things. We purged so much before moving. I just improvise with what is left and building as I go. I have to admit though, after the struggle of shredding/ pulsing cheese in my blender I ended up getting The Chew's 5 in 1 Slicer. I am still getting used to it but may post a review soon. Why not just buy shredded? I save a good amount getting 2 lb blocks from Sam's. Hope you all enjoy the video and the recipe!

I am entering this recipe into the Dairy Good Cookbook Sweepstakes which I discovered via Divas Can Cook.

Saturday, June 6, 2015

Chili Lime and Greek!

I had a spurt of creative energy that came through about a week ago. I was busy making a new marinade, trying out different sauce and spread. All homemade of course. The pictures made it to Instagram first. Sometimes that will happen from time to time so definitely follow me on Instagram if you have the app.

This past week was a blur! Sunday we went to her Kindergarten class’ end of the school year pool party thrown by the teachers, and then Julie had her last day of school the following Wednesday. It’s bittersweet because you are so proud, like she did it and we made it! On the other hand you realize that it’s like the ending of a chapter, she is really is growing up and not a baby anymore.

To new beginnings! *Cheers. Speaking of which, I would like to try my hand at catering and event planning. I have been doing alot of research and reading for quite some time. Back home in Maryland, we used to host events for our family and friends all the time, and everyone looked forward to Julie and Gio’s annual combined birthday barbecue. Though, it will be a gradual transition, I am slowly treading out of R&D mode. I would like for my interests and ventures to compliment each other even if it means scaling back on others. No sooner than I considered that and spoke it out into the universe, the contract with FF came to a screeching halt as of Friday. It may resume months later/down the road, it may not. Sometimes, I get the feeling that I’m being aggressively redirected in career life.

I have two new videos coming up. As for the recipes in this post, the Greek Chicken Salad is the one that I recorded, though I wished I had recorded the chili lime marinade instead. However, both recipes came out quite tasty, I have to say out of both of the recipes, the Chili Lime marinade was my favorite outcome! The marinade had an amazing aroma, very robust flavor, with just the right amount of spice. I used the chili lime marinade on a package of chicken leg quarters. We grilled brisket and corn on the cob too. I will definitely use this marinade again and again because it was that good! I think it would go great on shrimp and fish as well.


Chili Lime Marinade
2 Red Chili peppers
Juice of 2 Limes
4 Garlic Cloves
1 Tblspn of Garlic powder
1 Tspn of Coriander
1 Tblspn of Onion powder
1 1/2 Tspn of Smoked paprika
1 Tspn of Kosher Salt
Combine all ingredients and mix (liquefy) in the blender.


Tzatziki Sauce
3-4 Bunches of Fresh Dill
Juice of 1 Lemon
Approx. 16 Oz of Greek Yogurt (I used 3 5.3 oz containers of Chobani Greek Yogurt---use your favorite!)
3-4 Cloves of garlic
1 peeled, seeded, diced, and drained of water
Kosher Salt (Sprinkle the diced cucumber with kosher salt to help dry it out)
Ground Black pepper
Combine all ingredients in the blender and pulse until smooth.
Other uses for Tzatziki Sauce: You can use your Tzatziki sauce for gyros, as a dip for crackers or veggies, as salad dressing, as a dressing for chicken salad, for dipping sauce for wings, you can also use it as a marinade. Yes, a marinade. I marinated chicken breast and they came out so tender! I would definitely use it again as a marinade. (If you would like for me to share that recipe then just post below in the comments).

Olive Tapenade
1 Small can of anchovies (I only used 1 filet)
2 Tablespoons
Juice of 1 lemon
5 Garlic Cloves
1/4 Cup of Feta Cheese
1 to 1 1/2 Cups of Calamata Olives (I used chopped and already pitted variety)
1-2 Bunches of fresh Basil
1-2 Bunches of fresh Oregano
First combine your herbs, garlic, olive oil, and lemon juice in the blender. Then add your olives and last the feta cheese. Store excess in a nice air tight container. It should store up to at least a week.

I used the Tzatziki sauce as a dressing for my chicken salad (Greek Chicken Salad). I topped it over a bed of fresh spinach on a croissant. On the other side I spread a good amount of the olive tapenade. I would probably spread the tapenade beneath the spinach next time and use a little less. The sandwich has a very unique flavor and is quite tasty. It is a healthy option since the dressing for the chicken salad is not mayonnaise based but Greek yogurt based.


What creative spin will you put on your food with homemade chili lime marinade, tzatziki sauce and/or a homemade olive tapenade?