I currently live in Charlotte, NC and after spending 7 years as a personal chef and caterer, I am now happy to share my love of cooking with friends and family. My heart is in the kitchen, but my soul is in the stars!

Taste Testers

Many times I'm guilty of preparing a recipe that I think looks totally awesome and then not really being moved by the finished product. It happens often and I've come to the conclusion that it has to do with the fact that I'm constantly tasting each component of the recipe along the way and by the time I get to the grand finale I feel like I've already been there, done that. Also, since I work around food all day, every day, I've lost my zest for most things that once excited me. Case in point...I love, love, love boiled shrimp. Used to anyway...up until this past summer when the catering kitchen did a shrimp boil for 150 people on one of the hottest days of the year. I tell ya, once you unload 70 pounds of the frozen crustaceans from a truck, pack them into coolers to thaw, load them into a vehicle, unload them at the job site, cook them, smell them, feel them....well, you see where I'm going with this. As much as I love(d) them, I still can't look at them the same way that I used to.

That's where unbiased, third-party taste testers come in handy. Someone who hasn't gorged themselves on or been knee deep in the raw materials and who is capable of evaluating the item set before them because they are looking at it and tasting it for the first time. I have only one rule in my kitchen - not counting the unspoken rule of cleaning up after yourself - if I make something and you don't like it, you'd better be honest and tell me. It won't hurt my feelings, I promise. If you don't tell me and I make it a second time because I thought you liked it the first time and THEN you tell me that you didn't like it the first time.....well, we're gonna have a problem. Captain Sturm has no problem with said rule (well, sometimes I have to remind him of the clean up after yourself rule) and he's actually been kind enough to point out some of my less than stellar kitchen performances but those times have been far and few between because there isn't alot that Captain Sturm will veto when set before him. Luckily, when I need a second opinion I have three other taste testers that I can default to. Fortunately or unfortunately - however you wish to view it - there is very little that these testers will veto as well. Either I'm one fine cook or I need to find more discriminating palates to judge my fare. When I ran across
Peanut Butter Etouffee's blog event, I knew it was high time I introduced you to my panel of taste tasters and give credit where credit was due.

First up, we have Jesse James. Mr. James has volunteered his less-than-discriminatory palate to Someone's In The Kitchen on a part-time basis for nearly 6 years now. He would prefer to work full-time but unfortunately is afflicted with a delicate digestive system which prevents him from participating in some of the richer, tastier testings. Not much on paying attention to detail, Jesse prefers to gobble his food offerings whole and is often left wondering, "what exactly was that?" Since he is unable to join his fellow testers on most occasions, he supplements the void by vacuuming up any crumbs and morsels that have found their way to the floor. This talent has earned him the nickname "Hoover".

Second in command in the taste testing arena is Savory. This raven haired beauty found her way to Someone's In The Kitchen quite by accident about 4-1/2 years ago and has been with us ever since. Don't let her name fool you - she really is a sweetie and has no apparent food hang ups. When not offering her tasting talents to SITK, she can be found dining on a freshly maimed squirrel in the back yard. Savory's palate is a bit more discriminating in the sense that when something is really, really tasty she will make the effort to cry for more instead of just offering up a tail wag of acceptance for a mediocre item.

And last but certainly not least, we have Brown Dog. Miss Savory recruited Brown Dog about 4 years ago from the neighborhood and while we'd love to have him work full-time for us, he prefers a more nomadic schedule. We're not sure how Brown Dog spends his free time but we're just glad to know that when he gets hungry he always thinks of us. BD is a sneaky little tester and has been reprimanded on more than one occasion for tasting before he has been invited to do so. Our camera caught him in action stealing this cookie so keep your eye on him if you happen to sit your plate down and turn your head for just a minute. We can't be responsible for lost or stolen items.

I hope you have enjoyed meeting our fine, dedicated staff members here at Someone's In The Kitchen and we hope you'll visit Peanut Butter Ettouffee's blog for what I'm sure will be an excellent round up of characters!

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Soothe the soul

I am all about comfort... comfortable shoes, comfortable clothes, comfortable life. The first thing I do after a hard day of work is jump into a nice, warm shower and change into my flannel pjs, all in the name of comfort. You won't find me in clothes that bind or shoes that sir!

And so it was no wonder that I felt compelled to participate in Meeta's Monthly Mingle once I saw the Comfort Food theme. Stick-to-your-ribs foods of sustenance come into play this time of year particularly because of the cold weather. People want to hibernate, sit by a warm fire and enjoy the slower, more relaxed pace that comes with cold weather. I know I am not alone in wanting to do all of these warm and fuzzy things - I also see it with my catering clients. Last week, I had three requests for pans of our lasagna and knowing all too well the need to feed cold bones and shivering souls, I was happy to oblige.

The meals coming out of my personal kitchen have been laden with starch and much heavier than usual - beef tips over noodles, lasagna, pork chops with mac & cheese, and one of my all-time favorite pasta meals, South of the Border Stuffed Shells (or as my staff affectionately calls them, SOBs). I love these shells because I typically get caught up in the idea that everything pasta should be Italian but stuffed with ground beef, green chilies, and topped with picante sauce, these are far from that mind set. This is a great recipe for preparing ahead and storing unbaked in your freezer. So while these are baking, put on your flannel jammies, wrap up in a blankie on the couch in front of the fire, pop a movie in the DVD, enjoy and most importantly...stay warm!

* Exported from MasterCook *

South of the Border Stuffed Shells

Recipe By
Serving Size : 6
Categories : Beef Pasta

Amount Measure Ingredient -- Preparation Method
-------- ------------ --------------------------------
24 jumbo pasta shells
1 16 oz. jar picante sauce (I use medium, but if you like it hot, go for it!)
1 8 oz. can tomato sauce
1/2 cup water
1 medium onion -- chopped
2 cloves garlic -- minced
1 pound lean ground beef
1 tsp chili powder
1 4 oz. can green chiles -- chopped
1/2 cup canned corn -- drained
1 cup monterey jack cheese -- grated

Prepare pasta according to package directions; drain.
Mix picante sauce, tomato sauce and water in small bowl. In a skillet, cook onion, garlic and ground beef over medium heat until meat is browned and onion is tender. Remove from heat and drain off fat. Add chili powder, chopped green chilies, corn, 1/2 cup shredded cheese and 1/2 cup picante sauce mixture to meat mixture.
Preheat oven to 350F. Pour half of remaining picante sauce mixture in bottom of 13 x 9 x 2-inch baking dish. Fill each cooked shell with 1 to 2 tablespoons of mixture and place shells in baking dish. Pour remaining picante mixture over top of shells. Cover with aluminum foil and bake at 350F for 20 to 30 minutes. Uncover, add remaining 1/2 cup cheese and bake, uncovered, an additional 5 minutes until cheese melts. Serve immediately.

* This recipe can be assembled and frozen. To bake, thaw at room temperature for 8 hours and bake as directed above.

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A little while ago, Lis from La Mia Cucina and a few of her blogger buddies hosted a cinnamon roll smack down between the ooey-gooey Cinnabon and the recipe that was chosen for one of the Daring Bakers monthly challenges. Sadly, my hectic work schedule and chaotic personal life prevent me from being one of the Daring Bakers but I dutifully read posts by some of my favorite bloggers each month. When I read about all those beautiful fresh-from-the-oven buns, memories of my first days as a caterer came rushing back.

One of my first pieces of business was providing continental box breakfasts for the flight crew in Captain Sturm's flight department. I had a fabulous recipe for cinnamon rolls and it would thrill me when the crew ordered boxes for themselves and a few passengers because the recipe would make a dozen rolls so that meant that I could feast on leftovers for the next few mornings! I was so proud of those breakfasts, all nice and pretty with a fresh fruit cup, yogurt and homemade granola, a spork package complete with wet nap, and a huge ooey-gooey cinnamon roll taking center stage in the box. I was a proud caterer!



Captain Sturm brought home the bad news.....

The other pilots didn't want the cinnamon rolls because they were fattening. WTF??? Men worried about fattening??? Give me a break! So that was the end of my lovely box breakfasts. Oh, sure, I still make them for the crew but somehow that low fat muffin pales in comparison to my beautiful buns.

I made the rolls a few other times for another client but she developed health problems and had to abstain from my ooey-gooey buns (okay, so maybe the pilots knew something I didn't and wanted to be pro-active against health problems associated with eating too many cinnamon rolls, I dunno....) and soon, sadly, the cinna-madness was over. It has probably been 2 years since I last made them.


One glorious day last week when a friend of said client with health problems waltzed into my store and asked for a special order of cinnamon rolls. He said he'd heard they were the best. I baked the rolls and man, oh, man did they smell good! My entire staff oooohed and aaaahed over them all afternoon. And I'll admit, they tugged at my heart strings a bit too and caused me to wax nostalgia about the good ole days.

The next day I whipped up another batch just for myself and the staff to enjoy over the weekend. And don't you know, said friend from said client waltzed into my store again yesterday and wanted not one, but two more dozen of the beauties! And so cinna-madness has returned!!

But folks, lean close 'cause I'm gonna be completely and utterly honest with you. First, I'm a cheater when it comes to making the rolls. And too, I don't put cinnamon in them. SSSSSHHHHHHH! Don't you breathe a word!!! As far as cheating goes, can you blame me? My rolls turn out much, much better when using the dough cycle on my bread machine. I gave up trying to pretend that I could conquer the yeast beast. I can admit when I've been beaten. So, the recipe as posted below is for those of you who are cheaters as well. And for those of you I-don't-need-no-bread-machine snobs, well, just have right at it the old fashioned way! And I know you're dying to know what in the tarnation I use in my rolls if it's not cinnamon..........

That would be Chinese Five Spice Powder.

Yep, that's my secret weapon. It imparts a "what exactly is that flavor?" taste and no one can quite figure it out. Drives 'em mad, I tell ya. Try it. You'll see.

Naked, fresh-from-the-oven yummyness.

* Exported from MasterCook *

CinnaMadness Rolls

Serving Size : 12
Categories : Breads, Rolls, Muffins Breakfast

Amount Measure Ingredient -- Preparation Method
-------- ------------ --------------------------------
1 cup warm milk (110 degrees F/45 C)
2 each eggs, room temperature
1/3 cup butter, melted
4 1/2 cups bread flour minus 2 Tablespoons
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup white sugar
2 1/2 teaspoons bread machine yeast
1 cup brown sugar, packed
2 tablespoons Chinese Five Spice Powder
1/3 cup butter, softened
1 (3 ounce) package cream cheese, softened
1/4 cup butter, softened
1 1/2 cups confectioners' sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/8 teaspoon salt

Place ingredients in the pan of the bread machine in the order recommended by the manufacturer. Select dough cycle; press Start.

After the dough has finished its cycle and doubled in size, turn it out onto a lightly floured surface, cover and let rest for 10 minutes. In a small bowl, combine brown sugar and Chinese Five Spice Powder.

Roll dough into a 16x21 inch rectangle. Spread dough with 1/3 cup butter and sprinkle evenly with brown sugar/five spice mixture. Roll up dough and cut into 12 rolls. Place rolls in a lightly greased 9x13 inch baking pan. Cover and let rise until nearly doubled, about 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, preheat oven to 375 degrees F (200 degrees C). Bake rolls in preheated oven until golden brown, about 15-20 minutes (check after 10 minutes and cover with foil if getting too brown).

While rolls are baking, beat together cream cheese, 1/4 cup butter, confectioners' sugar, vanilla extract and salt. Spread frosting on warm rolls before serving. Remove rolls from pan before completely cool or they will stick.

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Soup du jour

When the weather turns cold and rainy, I love to put a pot of soup on the stove, build a fire and snuggle up on the couch with a blanket and a good book. Or maybe some groovy tunes on my new iPod. And that's exactly what I did not so long ago - I ran across this recipe for Creamy Chicken and Wild Rice Soup while cleaning out some of my recipe archives and I thought it would be the perfect way to use up the rest of my frozen Thanksgiving turkey leftovers. I'm normally not a huge fan of cream-based soups and sauces (and aren't my hips glad of that!) but since I had all the ingredients on hand, I thought I'd give it a try anyway. The recipe as originally written called for stewing a whole bird and then using shredding the meat and using the stock but since my poultry was already cooked, I didn't have that option so I just substituted with an appropriate amount of canned chicken broth. I also used half white rice and half wild rice because I didn't have a full package of the wild on hand.

The soup was a bit rich for me, but I did enjoy it, albeit in small quantities. I packaged the rest of it up and stored it in the freezer, which is another favorite thing of mine to do. There are nights when I come home from the kitchen and have absolutely no idea what I want to eat, let alone the desire to actually prepare something, so I just grab a container of soup from the freezer, nuke it for just a few minutes while throwing together a salad and some crusty bread or crackers, and after just a few minutes I'm enjoying a hearty, comforting dinner.

I'm submitting this to Cyndi's Thursday Soup Night over at Ruminations, so hop on over there later in the week and see what comforting soup or stew Cyndi is cooking up!

Serves 8

1 1/3 cups (8 oz) uncooked wild rice (I used a combo of white and wild)
1 - 3 pound broiler-fryer chicken, cut up (I used leftover turkey)
7 cups water
1 cup carrots, diced
2 tablespoons cooking oil
1 cup chopped onion
1 cup chopped celery
2 tablespoons chicken bouillon granules
3/4 teaspoons white pepper (black is OK)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup butter
3/4 cup flour
4 cups milk (or use 2 cups Half & Half and 2 cups milk for extra richness)
3/4 cup dry white wine

Partially cook wild rice according to package directions; drain off liquid and rinse. Set the partially cooked rice aside.

In a large Dutch oven or stockpot, combine the chicken and water and bring to boiling. Reduce heat, cover and simmer for 35 to 40 minutes or until chicken is tender. Remove chicken from broth and let stand until cool enough to handle. Skim fat from broth. Strain and reserve broth. Remove chicken meat from bones. Cut into bite-size pieces.

In the same pot, cook onion and celery in hot oil until translucent and soft, 5 to 10 minutes. Add carrots, stir and cook for 4 more minutes.

Remove from heat. Return broth to the stock pot.

Add partially cooked wild rice to the chicken broth. Stir in the granules, white pepper and salt. Bring to boiling and then reduce heat and simmer, uncovered, for 15 minutes.

In a large saucepan, melt the butter; stir in the flour until smooth. Add milk all at once. Cook and stir until bubbly. Stir into soup mixture. Stir in the chicken pieces and the dry white wine; heat through.

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