We Have A Winner

I just wrapped up my third year of working with Lisa Prince of the state ag department, WRAL’s Local Dish, and Flavor NC on PBS.  At the State Fair I help judge some of the specialty contests.  These are the competitions sponsored by entities such as King Arthur flour, SPAM, and the North Carolina Pecan Growers.

It’s a huge honor, and more fun and food than any one person should have, but somebody’s gotta do it, and I will proudly take this bullet on behalf of the people of North Carolina.There are folks that have been doing this for years and have judged 20-30 contests.  I’ve only done nine, but have learned a few things.  About entering cooking competitions, and a few other random truths.  I’ll start with those unrelated, incidental lessons.Traffic and parking: However long it takes to get from your house to the fairgrounds on the odd, non-fair Tuesday, quintuple it.  For weekend fair days, multiply it by six or seven.  For opening or closing day, just spend the night before out in the parking lot.

When sampling sixteen or seventeen pies, take no more than two bites each.  If you feel unable to control yourself with an especially delicious entrant, get it away from you.  And even those two bites can add up.  Post-judging, it’s probably best to dial back the midway munching.  Maybe only have one turkey leg, and either ice cream or funnel cake, but not both.If you plan to enter any type of cooking contests, I have a few tips.  They may not give you the win, but sometimes the difference between placing and being an also ran is quite narrow, and this advice may give you a few extra points.

Flavor and seasoning: Taste, taste, taste.  Make sure your food is seasoned.  If it’s a processed food such as SPAM, be careful your dish isn’t too salty.  Other foods need more salt.  There’s no way to get it right without tasting. Acid is your friend.  Dishes should have balance.  Rich, fatty foods need something to break them up, and the best way is by adding the acid of citrus juice, vinegar, or tangy dairy such as yogurt, sour cream, and buttermilk.  It will make your dish stand out in what can be a sea of mouth-coating, stomach-churning, heaviness.Make your dish at home, over and over, tweaking the recipe as needed.  Get your most brutally honest friends and family to give you feedback.  The girlfriend that doesn’t want to hurt your feelings is doing you no favors if she will not tell you the truth.  On your end, if you can’t take criticism and comments, contest cooking is probably not for you.If you don’t like the theme ingredient, pick another competition.  In the SPAM contest, the kids made their entries all about the SPAM.  Many of the adults tried to hide it.  Bad idea.  You must embrace the food and celebrate it.  This isn’t a game of, “How to get the kids to eat liver without realizing it”.  It’s to elevate and showcase the chosen ingredient.


Any excuse for a little cupcake porn. AmIright people?

Read the brief carefully.  You might make the best cupcake anybody’s ever eaten in the history of cupcakes, but if the instructions are to make a breakfast item, you will lose.  It will probably break the judges’ collective hearts to eliminate your cupcake, but they, and you, have to follow the rules.

I have seen winners who’ve been cooking for decades, and others who’ve only been at it for weeks.  So my final advice is—go for it!Thanks for your time.

My Fellow Travelers

Last week I spent a couple hours on I64, traveling east, then a couple more back home.

And I noticed something both alarming and depressing—the roadways seem heavily populated with bullies.

Sometimes, a car suddenly appeared behind me, almost close enough to drive right on up into the back of my jeep.It was at this point I felt unequivocally bullied.  There was menace in their maneuver.  At the earliest possible moment, they would go around, at a frightening proximity; both next to me, and when they pulled in front.

In addition to feeling like I’d just been roughed up for my lunch money, I felt an absolute disregard for, and denial of, my humanity.  I was not only in their way and deserved rebuke, I was less than. On my way home, this attitude struck me even more forcibly.  You see, I was returning home after a day with Sam Jones, proprietor of Skylight Inn and owner of Sam Jones Barbecue.

To look at Sam, you might make a few assumptions.  And, they may go something like this: he’s a rich, famous restaurateur who comes from the most famous and important family in town.  He’s got a fancy new restaurant, and nobody’s ever said no to him, and nothing bad’s ever happened.

Not Sam; just a representative cliche of a stereotype of a rush to judgement.

Heck, in 2003 the Skylight Inn won a James Beard award for “American Classics”.  This award thrust him firmly into the realm of celebrity chefs.

Two years later, Sam was working in the family restaurant, a respected volunteer in the Ayden fire department, and talking marriage with Ashley, a fellow Ayden resident, and his girlfriend of six years.

In their hometown, they were well-known and well-liked, the prom king and queen of Ayden.  Their future was bright and glorious, just like the rest of their charmed lives.One day the couple was traveling in Sam’s truck.  He pulled into an intersection.  And that was the last thing he remembered until he found himself crawling on the road, looking for Ashley.  There had been a collision, ejecting both from the vehicle.

She was under the front of the truck.  She wasn’t pinned, but Sam knew it was bad.  He found his hand-held radio and called in the accident. When rescue arrived, he wouldn’t allow them to transport him until Ashley had been loaded into the ambulance.  With paramedics furiously attending her, the truck left, and finally Sam was taken so that his own, not insignificant injuries could be tended to.

Ashley didn’t make it.

Within six months of this nightmare, both grandparents, constant, daily presences in his life, passed away.  Sam was left in a dark, dark tunnel and it seemed, some days, that he would never emerge.  And many days, didn’t want to.Today, Jones is married with two young children.  He’s also become chief of that volunteer fire department.  He loves what he does and gives back every chance he gets.  He’s smart, funny, cooks amazing Q, and tells a great story.

The point here is that everyone has a story—everyone.  Even the famous guy with the exciting life, even the middle-aged lady driving the well-worn jeep with too many bumper stickers. Every.Single.One.

Life is short, often hard, and can change in the blink of an eye.  There is no telling in what part of a stranger’s story that we encounter them.  It could be the best day of their life or the very, very worst.

So here is my plea.  Please, let us all treat each other more gently.  Just imagine this world if we all acknowledged our shared journey and are kind to every person we meet.Thanks for your time.

The Voice Of Reason

Contretemps (kon-truh-tahnz; French kawntruh-than): an unexpected and unfortunate occurrence.  Synonyms include kerfuffle, hurly-burly, fracas, hullabaloo, brouhaha, and Donnybrook.  As a former English major, my mind just boggles at the mischief our language gets up to (and yes, I do know I ended the sentence with a preposition).Due to instantaneous dissemination and digestion of information, issues that formerly only a few involved parties knew about now have global dogs in the fight.  If somebody in Wichita says something stupid and offensive, wired people in both Kansas City and Kazakhstan know, have opinions about it, and feel obligated to weigh in on it.In the past, when people said and did hurtful, illegal, and sometimes just flat-out annoying things, the circle of knowledge and subsequent anger was much smaller.

Now, when an outrage occurs either through ignorance or malice, the news travels around the globe, and the indignation of millions can be ignited in the time it used to take to get out stationary for the writing of a sternly worded letter to the editor of one’s local paper.  Recently a couple of controversies occurred involving area businesses.  Both happened in the real world.  But in both cases, social media spread the word and left much egg on many faces.As a bystander, each controversy seemed easily predictable.  One seemed to stem from the overreaction to a minor provocation by an authority figure, and the other a clear, textbook case of cultural appropriation so blatant it bordered on naked racism.

Oh Jeez…

Social media, in many cases not only spreads the word of the real-world ruckus, it also, in an ever-expanding number, provides the opportunity and venue for offences that then spread like crab grass during a rainy summer.

Some examples:

A person posts a cruel, tasteless “joke” right before getting on an international flight for business.  By the time the plane lands, the thoughtless passenger has become a worldwide pariah, and is unemployed and disavowed by their red-faced former employer.A company attempts to use the historic Mideast turmoil to sell shoes.  A phone company clumsily references 9/11 in an ad.  On Pearl Harbor Day, a soup company makes the mistake of tweeting a flag-waving noodle.

And, pretty much any time Kanye West tweets anything, ever.To hopefully mitigate damage that ensues from these missteps, I suggest the creation of a vital new position for every company in the US.

The voice of reason.  Or, if you like, special executive vice president of the office of not being dumb and getting into easily avoidable trouble.They can recommend guidelines like staying completely away from sexual, socioeconomic, educational, racial, and any other stereotypes that exist.  Just take your hands off the keyboard and walk away.  Just.Walk.Away.

A VOR (Voice of Reason) worth their salt will never let corporations engage in petty back and forth school yard-style bickering with private citizens.  Nobody likes a bully.  Especially not a multi-national bully worth billions.So, for the private social media aficionado without the means to employ their very own VOR, I offer a few tips that may save the pain and infamy that comes from ill-considered postings.

Sure Champ, sure.

Check your sources.  And then check again.  If the information you want to post are so outrageous that only a world-wide conspiracy necessitating the silence of thousands of co-conspirators from all walks of life would make it work, you can be pretty darn sure it’s not true.  That many humans are incapable of keeping their mouths shut—I promise.And I beg you, when drunk or jet-lagged never cut your hair, call your ex, or hit “enter”.Thanks for your time.


A Word of Advice

The Kid likes to project a certain image.  Being raised in the city has convinced the child of possessing colossal amounts of “street cred” accumulated from years of living on the mean streets.

Never mind the meanest street with which my baby ever interacted was one particularly ornery avenue that caused a skinned knee during bike-riding lessons.

The Kid is a fraud.Don’t get me wrong; there’s a certain amount of the aforementioned street cred.  My spawn is afraid to go nowhere and is in no way gullible or a soft touch.

But contrary to the vigorously maintained misanthropy, my funny little offspring is full of care and concern toward fellow men.  And corn nuts too—the child is often quite full of corn nuts.I have seen this “misanthrope” walk out of restaurant carrying takeout, only to give it away to someone who needs it.  I also have seen, on more than one occasion, the effort to make things right when we’re in an establishment and another customer is being an arrogant butthead.  Whether it’s doubling the tip or giving the put-upon employee an opportunity to vent, The Kid tries to make it better.

Around the age of four, we were at the grocery store.  The check-out girl and my child were chatting as we were rung up.  The conversation was going well, and The Kid decided the young woman was a new friend.  And had a very important question to ask her.“Do you have somebody that loves you?”

I was only about 20% mortified.  Because I knew what The Kid meant.

The Kid was trying to make sure that this shiny new grocery store friend had people who looked after her and had her back.  Friends and family who made her world a safe, happy place.

And the young worker understood, as well.  “I sure do, Shug.  And aren’t you sweet to ask?”So, that’s The Kid—a stealth altruist.

But promise you won’t let on…there’s that image to protect.

And this secretly sweet child made a New Year’s resolution last year that has taken hold and only brings good things in return.If, Gentle Reader, you’ve read more than a few of these published psychological exsanguinations of mine, then you probably wouldn’t be very surprised to discover that most of what I think is either spontaneously spoken to all present or written down for public consumption.

To some people, the shock is that I actually do censor myself.  I normally only share about 75% of what I think.  To share more would most likely remove that last vestige of doubt that I ain’t right and see me enjoying an extended stay at any one of our state’s many lovely and accredited mental health facilities.This means that I’m constantly striking up conversations with strangers.  And through this I meet awesome people every single day.

If somebody’s rocking an amazing pair of shoes, I tell them.  Is that exhausted-looking mom heroically holding it all together?  I congratulate her doing an impossible job in an exemplary manner.  Is the kid behind the counter efficient and sweet?  I thank the worker, and usually find their supervisor and tell them what a gem they have.What my kind, but uber-reticent child resolved to do is when observing something that deserves praise, gives it.  If speaking up can brighten someone’s day, why stay silent?

So now, my traditionally taciturn tadpole takes the time to talk (too much with the alliteration?).And, inspired by my bambino, I’ve worked hard to overcome my innate bashfulness and attempt sharing as well.

So, now the total’s approximately 78.375%.  Look out World!

Thanks for your time.

Advice for a newborn

The new year is only a few days old, and I offer a few thoughts and requests for it.

Dear 2018,baby 2018I know that in these early days it’s impossible to imagine anything other than shiny optimism, innocence, and clean diapers, but you only have to take a peek at poor old 2017 to see how very badly it all can go.  That pathetic year is a dirty, misshapen failure, half crawling, half dragged off the calendar and into the history books.  It had very few friends, and hardly anyone will miss it.  Even the folks who seemed to be having a good run ended the year in a less than glorious place.

It too was once a shiny, happy baby whom people adored.  Let it be a warning to you.  Every day is a new beginning, but it is a balance, and once the number of bad ones goes over 182, it’s game over, man. So, here are a few recommendations that might help to make you, 2018, less catastrophic than your older sibling.

Just because something is new, and seems exciting, does not mean it’s better.  One of these days, ask me about a little thing called New Coke.  Or movie remakes called Planet of the Apes or Arthur or The Wicker Man.  Or ask the Brady bunches’ cousin Oliver.

And expensive doesn’t mean it’s better either.  The point was brought home the other day in Costco where I low-key stalked a guy walking around in a pair of Gucci, fur-lined, backless leather slippers embroidered with tigers.

Shoes for crazy people.

I followed him around (discretely) because I had seen these “shoes” in the fashion press and couldn’t believe an actual human had purchased them for wearing.  It looked like the guy had either lost a bet or gotten dressed in the dark, during a fire.  When I got home, I was telling Petey about it and googled a picture of these masterpieces for him.

They cost $1100.

3 shoes

Ooh yeah, that’s the stuff…come to mama.

I have no problem with ridiculously expensive shoes.  Balenciaga has a breathtaking, glorious pair of pumps this season that goes for $995.  Chanel has an amazing pair of black-toed glittery boots for $1200, and St. Laurent’s fabulicious slouchy rhinestone boots are $10,000.  Would I happily sell my soul and/or both kidneys for the funds to purchase this walking art?

Of course, but these shoes are beautiful, not a hideous joke.

Sadly, some folks have more dollars than sense.There are many, many people who were completely caught off guard by you, 2018.  That’s because they had their heads buried in their smartphones.  These are the same people who’s lives will be over with nothing to show for it except for bathroom and brunch selfies, with no memory of why they were in that particular bathroom, or who else was at that picturesque meal.

So put down the phone and be present in your own life.

Those smartphones bring me to two more insidious results of these technological marvels; social media, and its flashy offspring, “going viral”.I have many perfectly nice and sane friends who regularly sing the praises of Facespace and Twattle.  They talk about how it keeps them in touch with family and connects them with treasured long-lost school chums.  Here’s my query: if they were so treasured, how’d you lose touch in the first place?Feverish social media use is illustrative of the human need for justice and the desire for complicated matters to have simple, black and white solutions.  That’s why people will learn of something that seems outrageous at breakfast and will have tried, convicted, and publicly pilloried the culprit by lunchtime.  Then three days later when the full story comes out which explains the unexplainable, nobody cares because everybody’s busy watching some Turkish dude salt meat (I swear-google it).

Salt dude.

I have a feeling, 2018, that you may turn out to be one huge, painful hangover.  That’s okay; just buckle in, eat a big greasy breakfast, drink lots of water, and sit quietly until 2019 shows up.nydThanks for your time.


I will not comply

I can’t live by your rules, man!

I have this contrary streak in me.  I absolutely cannot stand it when people think they know what’s best for me.  I’m not talking about highly trained, highly paid experts in their fields like lawyers, doctors, and plumbers.

I’m talking about the Mr. You Shoulds, and Mrs. You Oughtas.  The kind of folks that are ecstatic to tell you what you’re doing wrong in your life, and how to fix yourself.  Like the old lady who’s never had kids, but knows exactly how to raise them.  Or the guy, who because of his particular belief system, knows every answer to every question, and feels duty-bound to share his very special wisdom.I have such an aversion to those people and their rules, that I’m the girl that would rather have a spectacular failure than let somebody tell me what to do.

In the kitchen there are multitudes of experts, each with box cars full of do and don’ts.   But when cooking, as in the rest of my life, I gotta make my own mistakes, and learn from them.

What follows are a few rules folks have decided are mandatory iron-clad laws that should never, on pain of death be ignored.  And why I think they are so much horse hockey.

Never salt your steak before cooking.Nope, and here’s why.  Unless you’re purchasing and cooking restaurant quality aged meat, the best thing that can happen to your steak is some salt and a little rest in the fridge for a couple days.

A good portion of the weight in a piece of beef is water.  When you salt it, loosely wrap it in some paper towels, and let it rest in the refrigerator for a few days, you are doing a homemade dry age.  The salt draws out the water, which concentrates the flavor, and makes that Kroger New York strip taste closer to something you might get at Angus Barn.

Never make a recipe for the first time for guests.

No pressure there…


Wrong.  If this is a recipe you have the skill to tackle, do it.  Unless you’ve invited the queen or Coach K, there’s no need to be perfect.  The people who sit at your table are friends and family who want you to succeed.  Be careful, and don’t go too far off the reservation recipe-wise, but go for it.  At best you’ll have a new recipe with lots of feedback, and at worst, you’ll have a funny story they’ll tell at your wake.

The next one pinches a little.  I recently had one of the very few arguments I’ve ever had with my best friend of 37 years, Bo, over this very thing.  Neither of us changed our minds.


My nutty friend, Bo.

Conventional wisdom is to never, ever wash fresh mushrooms.  Again, I say nay.

If I’m prepping for a salad that I’m eating right away, then I brush the dreck off the ‘shrooms.  If they have time to sit in a colander and dry off, I don’t.  If I’m cooking them, I always wash them.

Mushrooms are 90% water.  There is a negligible ability to absorb more.  The few drops left on them from a brief shower will make no appreciable difference to taste or texture.  And for the optimal flavor of cooked mushrooms, you should cook out all the water anyway.

So I guess the moral to this tale is learn, listen to advice, but make up your own mind as to the worth of that advice.

You do you.

Honey, you get that freak flag down from the attic, and you let it fly!


Thanks for your time.

An almost free lunch

You know, I’m really proud of The Kid.At work, my child is within walking distance of at least twenty really outstanding restaurants.  It would take no effort at all to spend $200 a week on lunches.

But The Kid only goes out for lunch two or three times a month.  My frugal, sensible, little worker bee is a charter member of the brown bag club.

Actually, it’s a box–this box, in fact.  Ain’t my child special?

Sunday is spent preparing large batches of grub which are split up and frozen.  The newest addition is a dish using a spaghetti squash.

So here, in The Kid’s own words is that recipe, along with a little lunch box advice.

Spaghetti Squash bake

spag-squash2 Spaghetti squashes

3Tbs Capers

1C Spaghetti Sauce

2 cans canellini beans, rinsed.

1lb mushrooms, sliced

3 cloves garlic, minced

1/2 onion, small diced

¼ c Parmesan cheese, grated

¼ c white wine

Olive oil

Salt and pepper

 Preheat oven to 350 degrees

Slice squashes into rings, remove seeds and center. Put onto lined baking sheets and brush both sides with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. When oven is up to temp, bake squash for 40 minutes, or until a knife can easily pierce the rings.Let the squash until it is cool until it is able to be handled. Then remove the peel, and delicately break into strands. It will want to break apart on its own, so just follow how it wants to fall. Put the strands into a mixing bowl, and set aside.

Heat a pan to medium. When hot, add a splash of canola oil and add onion to pan. Season with salt and stir occasionally. When it gets soft and translucent, add garlic, and season. When the garlic gets fragrant, add mushrooms, and heavily season with salt. Stir occasionally, and cook until mushrooms are caramelized. Add wine, and cook until pan is dry. 

When mushrooms are done, add to bowl with the squash with beans, capers, and sauce.

Transfer mixture to a 8X8 baking pan and top with cheese. Bake for twenty minutes, and then put under the high broiler until cheese has color.Throw it in the fridge. Once cool, slice into servings, and put into separate containers. Freeze all portions not to be eaten in the next couple days.

*Biggest thing about lunches; have lots of options in the freezer. That way it’s super easy and you don’t have to eat the same thing until it’s gone.

While my child may be an expert on the art of carrying meals to work, I’ve become pretty proficient in healthy snacks, either at home or on the road.

I always keep a bag of nuts, seeds, and dried fruit in the fridge.  I love the salty/sweet and crunchy/chewy contrast.  It’s also great to sprinkle in salads or hot cereal.  Right now my mix is mainly cherries, strawberries, cashews, and almonds.I’m also fond of raw veggies and dip.  Buy whole and cut them to your own desired shape.  For dips, try hummus, whipped low-fat cream cheese with herbs or hot sauce mixed in, or nut butters.  I love carrots dipped into peanut butter.  But for the love of all that’s delicious, please don’t use those bagged “baby” carrots.  They’re just whittled-down regular carrots sprayed with chemicals.

The weather’s getting cooler every day.  Take some tuneage, a book, and your homemade lunch outside and enjoy your break.  At home, grab the kids, some snacks, and go for a walk or climb a tree.

There will be no rescue squad to save you.

*Any injuries sustained during aforementioned tree climbing are solely the responsibility of the climber and in no way the fault of the well-meaning food columnist.

Thanks for your time.


Please don’t judge me before you judge the salad

I had an awful time deciding on this week’s topic.I knew what I wanted to write about, but I was hesitant to do it.  It’s not that the recipe isn’t tasty because it.so.is.  It’s not that the preparation is difficult, because literally a child (with a little adult supervision) could make this dish.   And it’s not that it requires a lot of expensive ingredients, because chances are you have everything on hand right now.

No, the problem is that on the face of it, this recipe not only seems heavy, it also seems very plain—even boring.  How could these few ingredients combine to make something tasty?

I’m here now to tell you I have no idea how it does, either.  I think it’s some kind of gestalt thing; you know, ‘the whole is greater than the sum of its parts’.

But every time I make a bowl of this stuff I think that I really need to give you, Gentle Reader, this recipe.  I love it so much that I’ve felt guilty not spilling the beans to you.  Petey loves it, and The Kid, who wasn’t crazy about an earlier version, can’t get enough of it.

There we are…we rent the other two kids to round out the table.

So, The Kid’s coming for dinner tomorrow night and I’m serving it, along with some herbed potatoes and a new preparation of pork cubed steak.  It was the first time I’ve used cornmeal to crust meat.

But enough with the beating around the bush.  The dish I’ve been rhapsodizing about is broccoli salad.  See? I told you it didn’t sound very exciting.  But gosh it is good.

A few tips about making it, though.

Cut the broccoli into very small florets.  Small as in three florets would be bite-size.  And when you add the hot water to thin the dressing, make it as hot as your faucet gets, and whisk it in very well.  You are basically making an emulsion, and you don’t want it to separate after you’ve mixed it into the salad; that’s not appetizing.

Broccoli/Bacon Salad


8 cups broccoli cut into very small florets

4 slices bacon, cooked until crispy, reserving ¼ cup bacon grease

1 cup mayonnaise

2/3 cups finely shredded Parmesan. Divided

Very hot water, aprox. ½ cup

Salt and pepper

Cut broccoli into small pieces and place into a large bowl.  Add half the cheese, and gently toss.

Make dressing.  Mix mayo, bacon grease, and half the cheese.  Whisk together.  Add enough hot water to make it the consistency of thick pancake batter.  Season, taste, and re-season if necessary. 

Pour dressing over broccoli and mix until veg is coated.  Crumble bacon into salad and stir in.  Cover and refrigerate.  It’s better after twelve hours or so, and lasts 4 days in fridge.Makes 8 servings.

I haven’t found anything that doesn’t go well with this salad.  It packs up great for picnics, as long as you can keep a chill on it.  It’s terrific as a potluck too, because it doesn’t look very exciting, then you taste it.  It’s the sleeper cell of side dishes.

Tomorrow we’re having it with that cornmeal crusted pork cubed steak I talked about.  It’s really easy, with a big flavor payoff.

Cornmeal crusted cubed pork: Four to six hours before cooking make a three-part dredge of seasoned flour, non-fat buttermilk, and self-rising cornmeal.  Crust the pork in that order.  Place on parchment paper covered plate, cover with another piece of parchment (so there is no stickage), seal with plastic wrap and refrigerate until cooking time.When you’re ready to cook, heat a heavy skillet on medium-high.  Add about 1 inch of vegetable oil.  When the oil is nice and hot, cook pork until browned and crispy on one side then flip and cook the other side.

Petey likes his with a piece of provolone melted on top.  The Kid and I like a spritz of lemon juice.  They also make a great filling for hearty sandwiches.

And while the salad is definitely not spa food, there is only about 300 calories per one cup serving.  My trouble comes in limiting it to that one cup.  I promise you, this stuff is amazing (and so tempting).

Thanks for your time.

I’m Not Martha Stewart

I have a confession to make.

Martha Stewart kinda scares the figgy pudding out of me.

There’s just something about her.  Anybody that can make a grilled cheese by starting with a wheat field and a cow is pretty darn intimidating.  Part of it might be that fixed, slightly deranged gaze of an unhinged synchronized swimmer.  I firmly believe that under the right circumstances, she’d happily cut me.  She’s done time in the slammer you know.

But, I do admire Martha’s skills.  That woman could take an envelope and an old sock and turn it into a chandelier.  She could take half a Big Mac, an apple, and four dodgy Brussel sprouts and create a fabulous Thanksgiving dinner for twelve.

I was on her website looking at recipes when I saw a Rice Crispy treat surprise birthday cake.  You cut the treats into round cake shapes and decorate it like a cake. But for Martha, the whole thing seemed run-of-the-mill and frankly, dull.

For anybody else this would be a masterpiece, but for Martha…well…

It did get my wheels turning, though.

I imagined a deep, deep Devil’s food cupcake, with a not too heavy or sweet seven-minute type marshmallow frosting.

But, in the bottom of the liner, I would put a Rice Crispy treat.  The only problem was, I had no idea if it would turn out awesomely epic or a Charlie Sheen/Chernobyl-level disaster.  So, I gathered my supplies, informed Petey he had guinea pig duty, and entered my kitchen/lab.

You know what?  It worked.  The marshmallow treat part didn’t burn or harden, the cake was moist and super chocolatey, and the marshmallow frosting was just the right touch (and as an added bonus, the frosting is fat-free).

But I do have a couple of tips to reduce possible stress and future heartache.

df cupcake

Since I had to make the rice treats, cupcakes, and frosting, I decided to use a cake mix.  Only I subbed out the water for coffee and added a couple tablespoons of dark cocoa powder because I wanted to cut down the sweetness and amp up chocolate.

I put a rounded tablespoon of the still-warm treats in the bottom of cupcake liners, which I had sprayed with cooking spray (You only need a half a batch of the treats at most.  The recipe for them is on the cereal box).  Then I flattened the treats with my thumb and poured the cake batter almost to the very top.  Because of this, I only got about 18.  Coincidentally they also baked for 18 minutes.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe frosting stays sticky.  If they’ll need to travel, I suggest you toast it with a kitchen torch to seal it.  The recipe was a traditional cooked marshmallow/meringue topping.  It turned out to be easy to make, and so good you need to frost fast, to reduce the chance of eating it all from the bowl.

Marshmallow frosting

marsh frosting

4 large egg whites

1 cup granulated sugar

Big pinch of cream of tartar

¼ teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon vanilla

Put mixing bowl over slowly simmering pot of water—double boiler style.  Whisk together eggs and sugar until sugar’s dissolved, and it’s warm to the touch.

Put on mixer with whisk attachment and beat until it’s glossy and holds a stiff peak (5-7 minutes).  Mix in salt and vanilla.  Immediately frost cooled cupcakes.  Piping the icing makes it go much quicker, and they’re especially pretty that way.

wallp toast1.pngI think, in a way, I may have out-Martha-ed Martha. But maybe I shouldn’t say that out loud.

She might come after me.  And hurt me.

Thanks for your time.

Blame It On Rio

Today is day twelve of the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio.  Michael Phelps is an aqua god; part man, part some kind of fish, maybe trout or something.  Gymnast Simone Biles is possibly the best gymnast of all time, and uber-adorable teammate Laurie Hernandez looks like she fell off a charm bracelet.  Her three word motivational speech “I got this” should be the mantra for our nation.

Could she be Any.More.Adorable?

Southern Season has a special sandwich inspired by the games.  The Bauru is roast beef, gooey mozzarella, tomato, and pickle, served on a ciabatta-like bun.  The name comes from the town Bauru, who take it so seriously that the recipe has been codified into law.

One evening at the Bauru city jail:

“Whadda you in for? I killed a man to watch him die.”

“I put muenster cheese on my Bauru.”

“Guards! Get me away from this evil sandwich degenerate!”

The right way.

I’m not here today to debate the correct cheese on a roast beef sandwich (especially since it’s cold cheddar, obvi).  I want to talk about a Brazilian confection.

Called brigadeiros, they’re the love child of truffles and fudge.  They were developed in 1940 and named for a Brigadier General who ran for president of Brazil.  They’re found at children’s parties, and there are shops that sell nothing else.  I would liken their popularity to our love for cupcakes.  But brigadeiros have had a much longer run at the top of the dessert pile.

The main ingredient is sweetened condensed milk.  In the US, we use it mainly for key lime pie, and seven layer bars.   It’s also found around the world in many sweet dishes.  But in the Southern hemisphere the thick, gooey stuff is ubiquitous.  In many cultures it sweetens coffee and tea.  Caramel-like dulce de leche is made from it, and in South Asia they put it on toast, like honey.  Nestle sells it in a squeeze tube just for this purpose.


The traditional presentation is to cover these balls in sprinkles or jimmies.  I did use sprinkles.  But, I also decided to play around a little and come up with some other varieties.  I rolled some in crushed potato chips and I had some really sparkly sugar on hand that made others look like tiny disco balls.  But the ones I’m most proud of are the s’mores.  I put a mini marshmallow in the center, and then rolled it in graham cracker crumbs.

Before I share the recipe, I have a few tips:

Sift the cocoa powder.  I didn’t, and had major lumps.  I used my immersion blender to try and remove them.  I spray painted a goodly portion of myself and the kitchen in sticky chocolate and still had a small number of cocoa powder beads in the final product.

Use gloves.  This stuff gets sticky.  I even sprayed a little cooking spray on my gloved hands.  Nothing stuck, but be prepared to change your gloves to avoid contaminating one coating with another.


brigadeiro ingredients

2-14 ounce cans sweetened condensed milk

½ cup Hershey’s Special Dark cocoa, sifted

4 tablespoons butter

½ teaspoon salt

1 tablespoon vanilla extract

Place large non-stick pan on medium.  Add sweetened condensed milk and sifted cocoa.  Whisk until totally combined.  Add butter and salt.  Whisking continuously, cook until fudge thickens.  You want to see the pan bottom when you drag the whisk across the bottom, and it should take 2-3 seconds for the thickened fudge to re-cover the trail.  Take off heat and stir in vanilla.  Pour into a greased bowl.  Refrigerate until cooled and slightly chilled.

Using a small portion scoop, scoop out equal amounts onto parchment paper.  Return to fridge and let cool.


Remove from fridge, roll portions into neat balls, and roll in coating of choice.  Return to refrigerator for at least an hour.


Makes around 4 dozen.

You could have an Olympic closing ceremony bash celebrating Rio and the next host city; Tokyo.Have samba dancers serve brigadeiros and Geisha girls serve Daifuku (red bean cakes).  For drinks have cachaça, a Brazilian spirit made from sugarcane, and Japanese sake.

But if you do much drinking you probably shouldn’t have real fire in your Olympic torches.  Maybe just go with a couple festively decorated flashlights.

Thanks for your time.