Quarantine Kitchen – THIS is a First

I blame my sister Nancy. It’s all her fault. For years she has been calling me and saying things like the following:

  • I am trying to make __________. I don’t have ____. What’s a good substitute?
  • What do I NEED to know before I attempt making ______?
  • Why isn’t my ________ ______ing?
  • I have <ingredient X> in the fridge/pantry, what do I do with it?

And so on . . . ad nauseum

After seeing my post about Nina Manchev of Forte Tapas doing a live cooking event in conjunction with SecretBurger.com and how much I loved it, she called me. So I kinda blame Jolene and Nina as well.

YOU should do this!

“I have a great idea! You are such a good teacher. You’ve taught me over the phone! You have done a million live demos. YOU should do this.” Nancy thought it would be more fun to watch someone she knows (a/k/a ME) make something that looks difficult, but with the right instruction and a little interaction and feedback, is fairly uncomplicated. “We” could post the ingredient and equipment lists ahead of time so that we can actually cook together, instead of watching a cooking demo and having to try to recreate it later because (1) she didn’t have the ingredients; (2) the chef goes too fast; (3) the timing is not accurate (the video was edited); and (4) she can’t ask questions. “Let’s do something I don’t know how to make!”

My Mouth Agreed Before My Brain Caught Up

And because I am bored at home, my mouth agreed before my brain could catch up. If this is the only way my friends can visit with me, I thought it would be a good idea… at the time…then Nancy started inviting her friends on FaceBook… and a bunch of people accepted (!)…and then I got nervous. WTF was I thinking?

And thus, Quarantine Kitchen was born (thanks to pal Gemini for that catchy name).

By now, most of us are sick of cooking the same shit…all the time. Few people are willing to test out new recipes under the best of circumstances because they don’t want to waste time on a dish they might hate. Now that we all have plenty of time at home, few people are willing to test recipes for a different reason — screwing up a dish. Or worse, buying all the stuff and never making it, meaning a wasted trip to the grocery store, which has the potential of dire consequences involving death.  

Keeping It Real

To keep it real for what the original intention was, Nancy and I will be picking recipes that we both love which she does not know how to make well. Of course, I’ll be doing most of the “heavy lifting” so to speak, but I told her that if I am doing this, she is doing it with me. The Hubs will be with us monitoring the camera and letting me know your questions in real time and the Offspring may be brought in as well because he loves to cook!

If you read my last blog about being in quarantine, this is a chance for you to learn something new and engage with others in a safe way – social distancing to the MAX here. For me, it’s a way to stretch my comfort zone, connect with some friends and strangers, and do something I love – cooking for others. Remember in the blog that I said I miss cooking for a crowd? Well here is my chance, and as I type there are more of you interested than I thought possible.

Croque Madame was the Star of the Show

Croque Madame at Bouchon, Las Vegas
The Croque Madame at Thomas Keller’s Bouchon, Las Vegas. Photo by me.

Our first dish was Croque Madame. My all-time fave brunch dish. And let me tell you, it sounds way fancier than it is. When was the last time I made if for myself? Exactly never! I order it when I go out for brunch, but who knows when the next time that will fucking happen! Next up? My version of the only thing I will eat from Olive Garden – that Sausage and Kale soup.

Go to Good for Spooning on Facebook, check out the ingredient and equipment lists (most of which you probably already have on hand). (Truthfully, it is not quite as long as it looks at first glance. Don’t be scared! I added EVERY DAMN THING you need and a description of it in case you need to sub an item.

I Will Try to Answer ALL of your Questions

During the events I will answer questions as we go along, so don’t be afraid to chime in. The Hubs will read the questions to me so I can answer them. At the end of the demo, I’ll ask you to make suggestions for dishes you’d like to see. I can’t promise that I’ll do them, Nancy must want to learn the recipe since this is her damn idea.

It had been more than 5 years since I had done a live demo. And while I have done more than 1000 of them in my lifetime, I have only ever recorded a couple of them. If you are going to critique, please do so, but please be kind. I am sure I will suck in the beginning, but I am also sure I will get better. A little warning – it may end up being like “Auntie Fee” peppered with foul language, but I hope the recipes won’t be quite as disastrous.  

Can’t wait to see you and cook with you on Saturday!

Cover Photo by
Photo by Becca Tapert on Unsplash

Don’t Be a Jackass – Guest & Host Etiquette

Recently I have received a bunch of questions via messenger regarding etiquette rules. I have to chuckle each time I get one of these questions. Who do they think I am, Emily Post? While I am no expert on anything, I DO try to have decent manners and try to adhere to basic etiquette guidelines. Keep in mind that etiquette changes drastically with the times and what was appropriate at one time, are now seen as affectations or bizarre – calling cards, gloves, and hats for example, and THIS thank goodness. Still, some things never go out of style. When in doubt, bring flowers because as Uncle John says, “bitches love flowers”. I have addressed this topic before. Click here and here. This one is a little more tongue in cheek and peppered with foul language. Consider yourself warned. And just because I love Colin Firth, enjoy this on how NOT to behave.

I’ve put on my prettiest Miss Manners hat and here is some of MY etiquette Q&A for you. Many of these are real questions people asked me, except the last one. Disclaimer – Miss Manners would never use foul language and these are NOT her answers.

Bubbles are always nice! (photo from Unsplash)

Q – I’ve been invited to a dinner party. What should I bring?

A – It depends on the party and the host. If it is a catered or planned event, don’t fuck up the menu by bringing a dish the host will feel obligated to serve. A bottle of wine* (something with bubbles is extra nice), a potted plant/herb, or flowers are thoughtful choices. If it’s a potluck, work within the meal’s theme and find out whether the host needs an appetizer, side, main or dessert to round out the party.

Q – While traveling, we’ll be visiting several friends’ homes. I don’t want to pack extra stuff, so how do I handle proper Host gifts?

A – Politeness and etiquette dictate that as an overnight guest you gift your host with a little something. Once at your destination, hit up a liquor store* or florist for above mentioned gifts. Alternatively, when you get home, send something special from your neck of the woods (this can also be done in advance). You can also keep an eye and ear open for things your host might find useful. Friend Lisa stayed with us over Thanksgiving weekend and a GORGEOUS new red tea kettle arrived in the mail a few days after her return because she knew I had been looking for a new one.  And send a handwritten thank you note because everyone likes to get snail mail that isn’t a bill!

Remember “Bitches Love Flowers” is Uncle John’s etiquette rule for every occasion. Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

Q – I am frequently invited to parties, I always ask “What can I bring?” and I am always told nothing. What does etiquette dictate I do?

A – Find your hosts’ fave resto and get them a gift certificate so they can enjoy after your departure. EVERYONE appreciates food & drink! This works really well for when you are travelling. Also, see Uncle John’s rule above.

Photo by Nino Ubezio on Unsplash

Q – I hosted a sit down dinner party and one of the guests arrived 90 minutes late with no apology or excuse. Do I ever have to invite them again?

A – FUCK NO! That bitch is off the list. Had it been a “drop in” or casual affair, tardiness would have been permitted. When I extend an invite for, “Cocktails at 6 and dinner at 7” and a guest shows up THAT late (with no prior notification, apology or decent excuse) they never get another invite from me…for anything. And for the record, you aren’t obligated to invite anyone to anything you host. Guests – if you KNOW you are going to be late, a simple text, call or FB message is enough to grant you forgiveness in most cases. And guest – make your apologies as far in advance as possible to honor your hosts’ and the other guests’ time.

Q – I was invited to a dinner at a friend’s house for “Cocktails at 6, dinner at 7:30”. I was on time and dinner wasn’t served until 9! Can I just show up late next time?

A – FUCK NO! Maybe your host had a recipe issue, appliance issue or something else too embarrassing to share with the guests. If it really pisses you off, the best option is to let the host know you’ll miss cocktails and be in time for dinner (see above about letting the host know you’ll be late).

Q – At my party, an inebriate got WAY out of line, making some guests uncomfortable. I am embarrassed and don’t want to invite them back for another event. Because we share many mutual friends, am I obligated to include them?

A – FUCK NO! It’s your house! You aren’t obligated to invite ANYONE to anything. That being said, if you are close friends with this person, you should tell them their behavior was out of bounds, and explain why you were embarrassed. If you aren’t close friends that could be an awkward conversation so use your best judgment. Let me repeat, you aren’t OBLIGATED to include ANYONE for ANY event EVER.


Q – I RSVPed to an event and have since gotten a better invitation. Can I politely back out of invitation #1?

A – Only if you want to be an excellent example of an etiquette Jackass! Both hosts thought enough to include you, but #1 asked first and YOU ACCEPTED! Don’t be THAT PERSON! In this day of social media pics everywhere, your cancellation could really hurt host #1’s feelings (and let’s face it, etiquette and manners are all about not hurting someone’s feelings). If possible, go to BOTH events! Let host #2 know you will be late, let host #1 know you’ll have to leave early. EXCEPTION #1 – etiquette dictates weddings trump everything. If you RSVPed to a wedding you go, barring a true emergency, because the happy couple has probably already paid for your meal. If you get a wedding invite after RSVPing to an event, call host #1 and beg off citing the wedding invite – they will understand. EXCEPTION #2 – if Event #2 is work related, call Host #1 and explain that you won’t be able to attend.

Q – I received an invitation that says “Adults only – no kids please”. Can I bring my infant?

A – In most cases no. The invitation is pretty fucking clear. EXCEPTION – if you are a nursing Mom with an infant (and I do mean INFANT – not toddler), call and ask if it’s ok to bring the baby BECAUSE you are nursing. Years ago, I had to do this when I was invited to a wedding and Jack was just a couple of weeks old. The Happy Couple said yes, so I went. John would have attended the wedding without me had the answer been different. I’ve had to turn down an out of town wedding invite because I couldn’t bring my school aged son and I had no one to watch him. I was sad to have missed it, but sent a gift anyway. I had several people not attend my own wedding because of my “no kids” policy. And Hosts – don’t be afraid to stand your ground on this issue – it’s YOUR event!

Q – Several of my guests brought lovely Host Gifts to a party I hosted recently. Are thank you notes warranted?

A – No. The gifts you received were “thank you” gifts to you for your hospitality. It’d be like writing a thank you note for a thank you note. Ya dig? Where would it ever end?

Q – My guests didn’t bring me Host Gifts? Should I invite them back?

A – Don’t be an asshole! If you invited them because you thought they would bring you gifts, you included them for the wrong reason, you asshole! If you enjoy their company, their presence should be gift enough.


*Know your audience! Don’t bring wine or other alcohol to the home of someone who doesn’t drink. Sparkling Cider works really well too!


Deez Nuts – Perfect Cocktail Party Snack

I can make a meal out of appetizers and snacks and I am always on the lookout for something different. These nuts fit the bill! Sweet and slightly spicy, these nuts hit all the right notes. Incredibly easy to make and simply addictive, they are perfect any time of year, but are really fantastic during the holidays.

Our old neighbor in South Carolina, Mackenzie Sholz, gifted me with these delightful mouthfuls in 1994 and I begged for the recipe. The original called for walnuts and corn oil, but Mackenzie used pecans so I have always made them that way. I switched up the corn oil with coconut oil and the flavor is even better than the original. I do caution you, however, as Mackenzie did me, “Make two batches at once because you’ll find yourself digging in while they are cooling.”


1 lb pecan halves

1/2 c sugar

2-1/2 T coconut oil

1/2 t salt

1/4 t pepper

1/4 t cayenne pepper

1-1/4 t ground cumin

1/4 t coriander

1/2 t ground ginger

1/4 t ground cloves

1/2 t chili powder (pick your favorite – I’ve used Ancho, Aleppo and “regular” chili powder all with success)


Preheat oven to 325.


Mix oil and sugar in a large bowl that has a lid. It will look like a paste.


Blanch nuts in boiling H2O for 1 minute and drain well.


While nuts are still hot, dump into the lidded bowl with oil and sugar and stir or shake well to coat the nuts.. Cover and let stand 10 minutes.


Arrange in a single layer on a cookie sheet (wash the bowl and dry it, you’ll need it again).  Bake 30-45 minutes depending on your pans (heavier pans require longer baking time), stirring every 10- 15 minutes. The nuts should look dark golden brown and all of sugar syrup should be crystallized.


While the nuts are baking, blend the spices. I use whole spices whenever possible and grind them freshly for each batch. It really makes a difference. If you want to go the extra mile, slightly toast your whole spices in a dry skillet and allow to cool before grinding to release even more flavor.


When nuts are brown and crispy, put into the lidded bowl with the spices.  Put the lid on the bowl and shake to coat the nuts.


Spread nuts in a single layer to cool completely.  Store in an airtight container up to 2 weeks – if they last that long.

Curried spiced pecans are easy to make, and disappear quickly.

Cooking Together – Therapy I Can Enjoy

I know some of you do not enjoy cooking, and that’s ok. But what if I told you it is like therapy when you do it with friends? I personally love cooking. I don’t enjoy it for myself; I am happy with something grabbed out of the fridge if I am eating alone. I am happiest when cooking for, and with, a crowd. Maybe that’s why for almost 20 years I did live cooking demos as a job. It could explain why I love what I do now (managing culinary events and tradeshows). Perhaps that’s why I have always wanted my own food show.

Friend John M and I have often joked that we should have our own TV show about cooking together. We both love cooking and love doing it together. And more times than not, we end up laughing our asses off. Each of us enjoys cooking alone, but when we cook together, the enjoyment is amplified. We smile more, relax more, and the act of cooking together ratchets up the enjoyment of the meal itself. Sadly we don’t always MAKE TIME to have this happen, but that has changed.

Friends cooking together is more than “many hands make light work”. It’s fun therapy anyone can get behind.

Friend Gemini is going through a rough time physically and LOVES to cook. We have tried to get our schedules to synch up to enjoy cooking together for ages and we finally made that happen. Cooking with Gemini was born! It started with inviting Gemini and her guy John to my house to cook. Then we invited a few other couples where at least one member of the duo loves to cook. I literally had a house full of Johns, as every single man in attendance was named John! Toss in Friend Janet who loves cooking and has some chops, and Friend Lynn and we have a winner. Moment of Truth – Lynn HATES to cook, but she is HELL on clean up and she took all of the pics, so that is her contribution. We intentionally chose menu items that we had never tried before, or wanted to learn from someone else.  We decided on fish baked in a salt crust, which none of us had ever tried to do, and fresh gnocchi. Gnocchi is a personal favorite of mine and I coached everyone through that process. Some prep was done ahead of time, but the idea was to do as much as possible together.

All the tension melted away

At first there was a little tentativeness on everyone’s part. For me, I am very comfortable being bossy, but I don’t USUALLY like to boss my friends around. I needed to get over that and take charge of the flow. For others, they felt in some way like they didn’t want to step out of bounds in my kitchen, or get in someone else’s way. All the tension and tentativeness melted away gradually while we made gnocchi with truffles and garlic and amberjack baked in a salt crust. We laughed while we drank wine and stood shoulder to shoulder to roll gnocchi. Everyone who wanted to “get their hands dirty” was given a job and of course there was shock and a learning curve involved. Especially when we went to crust the fish and realized it hadn’t been gutted…my fault. The Hubs was appalled I didn’t learn to do that in culinary school (they were always cleaned for us). Thank goodness for former Boy Scout John M! He coached me through the process, and it was easier than I imagined with his guidance. A salad of blanched veggies with hearts of palm and sun dried tomatoes rounded out the meal.

Gutted Amberjack stuffed with lemons getting ready for the salt crust.

Hand rolled gnocchi. The lines in this case come from a gnocchi board available at Sur la Table (link above)

Food is so much more than fuel

Most of the folks in attendance knew at least one person other than The Hubs and me, but no one knew everyone. Politics were left at the door. We talked about food, booze, books, movies, games, ourselves and our lives. We got to know one another on a deeper, more intimate level and everyone left relaxed. As if they had gone to a therapy session with a masseuse or a shrink. We had such a good time; we decided to make a monthly event of it. Our next event will be Cajun/Creole themed. It was decided that sticking with one base idea and working off that premise would make a more cohesive evening, food wise. We also decided to keep it small and intimate and only the folks invited to the first one will be invited to future events to grow and nurture these new friendships, to foster the love of cooking and to keep it manageable for everyone to be able to participate. For each attendee, food is so much more than fuel. We all LOVE food, appreciate the details and effort that go into the prep, and revel in the outcome. And doing it all together made it so much more than just a shared meal.

Friend John M removes the skin after the salt crust has been cracked off.

The gnocchi were finished in olive oil with black truffles that came from Try the World in my “Italy box” and fresh garlic


To finish off the meal, Gemini brought a gorgeous flourless chocolate cake with chocolate ganache. She garnished with candied flowers and freshly whipped cream and plated it a la minute.

Flourless chocolate cake with ganache and candied flowers

If you are in need of self-care, try cooking with friends. Set up your own cooking supper club. You’ll end up feeding more than your body; you’ll feed your soul and your mind too. Watch for future pics of “Cooking with Gemini” on my Facebook page and Instagram.


Photo Blog – Walking Dead Dinner

I rarely post a “photo blog”, but since I promised to share the pics, here it is:

Photo Blog – Walking Dead Dinner

If you have been following along you know that we hosted a themed dinner this past Sunday to welcome in Season 7 of The Walking Dead. Truth be told, the real reason we did it was for the comfort of chosen family when we knew at least one of our faves was meeting his demise. Needless to say, we ate before the grisly scenes. Here are some pics of the food, all themed to specific episodes, characters or thematic elements in the show. Do note the “Lucille” prop that the Hubs and the Offspring collaborated on for our table décor.

For me the coolest part of taking all these pics and posting some of them to my Instagram is that The Walking Dead show itself liked and commented on several of them. Color me nerdy, but that was a cheap thrill for me. Thanks to Friend Lillian for letting me know!  I had several fangirl moments and high fives over that shit I can tell you!

Merle's Buffalo BBQ Opossum Dip - clever themed name for a fave dip. Get the recipe HERE.

Merle’s Buffalo BBQ Opossum Dip – clever themed name for a fave dip. Get the recipe HERE.

Mama Dixon's Veggie Spoon Bread. Just the way Darryl likes it. Thanks Friend Lillian for sharing.

Mama Dixon’s Veggie Spoon Bread. Just the way Darryl likes it. Thanks Friend Lillian for sharing.

Shane's Frog Eye Salad - Israeli Couscous cubs for actual frogs' eyes in this pasta salad

Shane’s Frog Eye Salad – Israeli Couscous subs for actual frogs’ eyes in this pasta salad

The Bell Gang - smiling for the camera is not their forte...in fact they hate it.

The Bell Gang – smiling for the camera is not their forte…in fact they hate it.

Friends Joel and Lillian with the Offspring

Friends Joel and Lillian with the Offspring

The Hubs carving the meat

The Hubs carving the meat. Check out the Walking Dead Shirt from Universal Studios Hollywood!

Bowl of Walker Blood Punch. Bulleit Bourbon and Fireball hit hard in this creeptastic punchbowl recipe.

Bowl of Walker Blood Punch. Bulleit Bourbon and Fireball hit hard in this creeptastic punchbowl recipe.

Oh Terminus! Here is the main course of the evening - Dinner at Terminus. If you are a fan of the show, you get it.

Oh Terminus! Here is the main course of the evening – Dinner at Terminus. If you are a fan of the show, you get it.

Carol's Casserole - my twist on Tuna Casserole. Fun fact - perfect post apocalyptic meal; all ingredients are shelf stable in the original recipe.

Carol’s Casserole – my twist on Tuna Casserole. Fun fact – perfect post apocalyptic meal; all ingredients are shelf stable in the original recipe.

Carl had the celebratory can of "roof pudding" when he survived the walkers on his own. Our take on it.

Carl had the celebratory can of “roof pudding” when he survived the walkers on his own. Our take on it.

Look at the Flowers Lizzie cupcakes. Flower shaped lemon cupcakes with limoncello glaze. I used this recipe as a guideline.

Look at the Flowers Lizzie cupcakes. Flower shaped lemon cupcakes with limoncello glaze. I used this recipe as a guideline.

Apocalyptic Chocolate Chip Cookies by Friend Danielle

Apocalyptic Chocolate Chip Cookies by Friend Danielle. Recipe from Trader Joe’s

Coming next week  – WIN the new cookbook from Tommy Bahama!