Tag Archive : Family

I’m so thankful for my recent opportunity to help Verify TV during their search to find the best tamales in North Texas. While it’s always a fun adventure to participate with them, this particular assignment meant a great deal to me personally.

It’s not Christmas until the tamales are made. For my family, and so many others, it’s a tradition that involves participation from everyone — in many ways a rite of passage.

I remember very clearly the day I was first allowed to help. It was at my Grandma Ollie’s ranch, and I must have been around six or seven. Sitting around the long counter right next to my Ma, I was handed an oja (corn husk) and a spoon.

My job was to spread masa on as many ojas as I could. I recall my Grandma helping me figure out how to hold the oja in my little hand.

There’s a distinct way to gently use the spoon to smooth out the masa in swift strokes. I was so frustrated at first.

I recall feeling like each oja took FOREVER to do!

But, I was at the table. And, that’s what mattered.

An assembly line of family members laughing, working, and celebrating an extraordinary culinary experience rooted in my heritage — a memory that would imprint on my heart forever.

To be able to continue the tradition — right next to my Ma and with Grandma Ollie at 99 years and still in charge of the crew — means everything to me and more.

Merry Christmas. May your own family traditions during the holiday season be as special to you as mine are to me.

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*song used for entertainment only – no copyright infringement intended*

Penne Rigate - omgsdfwfood

Recently, our Aunt Sophie came up to see my Ma, and in order to make life a little easier and to give Ma some extra time to visit, I offered to make several meals ahead of time for the week. Normally, Ma has to cook dinner for my brother, nephew, and grandmother. So, the goal was to make a few large one stop meals that could be complemented with a quick dinner salad and that’s it. One of the meals was a Creamy Penne Rigate with Chicken, Ham, and Peas in an Alfredo sauce with Panko, Parmesan, and Mozzarella topping. When Aunt Sophie arrived, we all ate dinner together, and it was such a hit that she asked for the recipe so she could make it for her grandchildren when she returned home to San Antonio.

Before I post this, in the spirit of full disclosure, I did use a store bought Alfredo sauce for this particular recipe. I know. I know. It’s a horrible thing to do, but because I was making 7-9 large meals in one afternoon, I didn’t make a bechamel like I would have done normally because I needed to save some time. I did, however, doctor the jar, which made me feel a little bit better about my atrocious deed.

 

Creamy Penne Rigate with Chicken, Ham, and Peas in Alfredo topped with Panko, Parmesan and Mozzarella

1 Large Onion Quartered
2 Individual Packages Baby Carrots
1 Tablespoon Whole Rainbow Peppercorns
2 Tablespoons Knorr Chicken Bouillon (Caldo de Pollo)
4 Large Garlic Cloves Smashed and Peeled
4 Large Boneless Chicken Breasts
2 Cups Whole Smoked Ham Cubed
1 Package Frozen Peas
2 Jars of Best Quality Alfredo Sauce (OR make a bechamel sauce and add copious amounts of Parmesan to the sauce)
1 16oz Box Dry Penne Rigate Pasta
1/2 Cup Panko Crumbs
1 Cup Shredded Parmesan (OR freshly grated)
1 Cup Shredded Mozzarella (OR hand torn in small pieces)
2 Tablespoons Butter Melted

Preheat the oven to 375°

Fill a large 6-8 quart pot with warm water up 3/4 of the side. On medium high heat, add quartered onion, baby carrots, peppercorns, bouillon, garlic and chicken breasts to the water and then bring to a low boil. Once the chicken is cooked thoroughly, remove the chicken and set aside to cool. Taste the broth and adjust seasonings. Strain the broth and transfer the onions, carrots, peppercorns and garlic to a blender. Add broth to the mixture in the blender about half way, just to help liquefy the ingredients. Blend until smooth. Return the ingredients from the blender to the broth and place back on low heat to keep warm. Taste and adjust seasonings, as needed.

Once chicken is cool enough to handle, shred by using your hands or by using two forks to separate the meat. Place shredded chicken in an extra large bowl and add the cubed ham, frozen peas, 1/2 cup of shredded Parmesan and 1/2 cup of shredded mozzarella, then set aside. Add the two jars of the best quality Alfredo sauce you can purchase, and then when the jar is empty, add the seasoned broth halfway up each jar. Place the lid back on the jar and shake vigorously to remove all sauce from inside the jar, then add both jar remains into the extra large bowl with the other ingredients.

In a separate medium size soup pot, fill 1/2 up with the warm broth and then add warm water up 3/4 of the side of the soup pot. You should still have some broth left in the original pot continuing to stay warm at a low heat. Bring the water/broth mixture to a boil. Add the box of penne rigate to the boiling water/broth mixture, and stir the penne rigate frequently for 6 minutes or until the pasta is almost done but still under cooked. Remove the under cooked pasta from the water/broth mixture and transfer the pasta to the extra large bowl with the other ingredients and thoroughly mix all the ingredients together. Discard the water/broth mixture.

Once all the ingredients are completely incorporated and coated with the sauce, transfer the entire contents of the extra large bowl into a deep lasagna baking dish or large disposable foil roaster for easier clean up. Once the mixture is evenly distributed in the pan, ladle approximately 3/4 cup of the warming broth over the entire mixture. Sprinkle the remaining Parmesan, mozzarella, and Panko alternating evenly over the entire surface of the mixture. Using a spoon, drizzle the melted butter evenly over the entire mixture to help the Panko and cheese brown in the oven. Create a loose foil tent to avoid touching the top of the mixture but seal around the ends to cover the pan.

Place in a 375° oven for 30 minutes or until the cheese is completely melted and the Creamy Penne Rigate is warmed through. Remove from the oven and remove the loose foil cover. Place back into the oven and set the oven to Broil. Carefully watch the Creamy Penne Rigate while it is browning under the broiler. Once the browning process starts, it will go fast.

Once the panko and cheese topping becomes golden brown and bubbly, remove the Creamy Penne Rigate from the oven carefully and then turn off the oven completely.

Yields 8-10 Servings

Knives

My friends and family rock – mostly because they tolerate me and encourage (sometimes enable) my addiction to bacon. But, they also rock because they all love food and are pretty much geniuses in the kitchen. And, those who opt not to cook or bake, happily serve as taste testers and provide honest and thoughtful opinions. So, all around, these folks are pretty much the best group to provide some killer (as in good, not lethal) cooking and baking tips.

I sent a shout out to my peeps and asked them to offer up their best cooking or baking advice, and boy, did they deliver! And, they covered the gamut. From basics like knives and equipment, to things I didn’t even have on my radar (see #3), this top six list is a culinary quick-stop resource for anyone who ventures into the kitchen.

Along with my own advice, I’ve combined some of the feedback into topics since some of us hit on the same subject – great minds think alike and all. So, here is my inner culinary circle’s gift to you…

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OMGSDFWFOOD - Marquee w Famil

Twenty years ago, I unexpectedly encountered the best part of my past and the greatest treasure I take with me always, the friendship of five very special individuals who attended the University of North Texas with me, and this past weekend, we had our first reunion with the meeting place being the phenomenal Marquee Grill located in Highland Park, Dallas, Texas.

After the initial laughter and hugs, we immersed ourselves in the menu and prepared for a symphony of flavors conducted at the hands of Chef Tre Wilcox, alumni of Bravo’s popular television series, Top Chef, Season 3.  As our glasses clinked in the inaugural toast, it was like the conductor’s baton rapping on the music stand, calling our senses to attention, in preparation for a myriad of texture, color, playfulness, essence, aroma and sheer flavorful pleasure.

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