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Valentine’s Cooking Tips with Quick and Easy Recipe for Chocolate Lovers

 Author Bio: Kent Whitaker, also known as “The Deck Chef,” is an award-winning culinary writer and cookbook author. He’s also penned Young Reader, NASCAR and History titles. The former winner of the Emeril Live Food Network Barbecue Contest also covers football, motorsports, and bass fishing. Kent currently lives in East Tennessee with his wife, son, and a couple of dogs that love when he fires up the smoker or grill. You can reach out to Kent at, Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. Many people opt for a private home cooked meal on Valentine’s Day instead of spending too much on dinner out with possibly inflated prices. Hey, there’s nothing wrong with a big dinner out with your Valentine if the budget and schedule allows it. However, many may find a romantic dinner at home more affordable and equally desired. The trick is to make sure the romantic event is different from a normal meal Here are some suggestions followed by a quick and easy recipe for Chocolate lovers! Simple is the ticket during the month for lovers. You want to impress your dinner partner. But that does not mean picking a dish that requires you spending all your time in the kitchen. Nothing says love like waiting for hours while food is cooking. Keep it quick and simple… but new. Keep it fresh. This applies on two levels, fresh foods and a fresh recipe. Avoid bland frozen items and choose a dish that is not something the two of you would eat on a regular basis. Comfort But try to stay in both of your comfort zones. This is not the time to try an exotic recipe for the first time. One, make sure you can cook the dish. Don’t pick something that takes more skill than you can muster, or time than you can dedicate to it. Two, don’t go crazy on something that neither one of you would really enjoy. Portions Size. Dishes are smaller, everything is easier, cooking time is reduced and both of you are more likely to enjoy each other’s company more if you don’t feel the need for a nap after dinner. Clean Up! Are you kidding me? Save the dishes for later. In short, make it simple, realistic and something you know you can cook but don’t all the time then try to add a twist. And even if you just whip up a regular favorite for dinner, which is fine, add something special and fun. Quick [...]

By |2020-01-25T21:20:13+00:00January 25th, 2020|Fruits, Valentine Day|0 Comments

Grilled Apricot Easter Ham Steaks

Author Bio: Kent Whitaker, also known as "The Deck Chef," is an award-winning culinary writer and cookbook author. He's also penned Young Reader, NASCAR and History titles. The former winner of the Emeril Live Food Network Barbecue Contest also covers football, motorsports, and bass fishing. Kent currently lives in East Tennessee with his wife, son, and a couple of dogs that love when he fires up the smoker or grill. You can reach out to Kent at, Facebook, Instagram @thekentwhitaker, and Twitter @thekentwhitaker. Easter is the holiday that kicks off Spring and opens the door for Summer grilling. When it comes to Easter one of the most traditional menu items for many family dinners is ham. So, it makes perfect sense, at least to backyard grilling gurus, that it’s a perfect time to grill some ham. However, grilling a huge ham meant to serve several people may be too much for an Easter dinner for two. That’s the situation we found ourselves in last year. Allyson and I had visited with our out-of-town family the week prior to Easter so on the day of the actual holiday we only had two people to cook for. The solution, switch from a 12-pound ham to a couple of nice center-cut ham steaks! Why do We Eat Ham for Easter? Easter meals traditionally include ham. But why is that? Besides the fact that ham is a tasty dish to serve at a family meal, ham has been an Easter favorite for centuries. A long time ago in Europe and Asian countries, pigs were slaughtered in the fall and early winter, then cured/smoked, and ready to eat when Spring came. What timing! Easter is in the spring holiday and ham is ready to be eaten! That combination which was based on everyday life has carried on as a tradition. What’s a Ham Steak? In case you’re wondering, steak is a term that is used in many countries to describe a nice thick cut of meat or seafood. I guess the beef industry is just better at marketing the term than other producers. A ham steak is a center-cut slice of bone-in ham roast ranging from 1/4 inch to 1 inch thick. The thinner slices are often called breakfast ham steaks. The great thing is that these cuts are most often fully cooked if bought pre-packaged. Just check the label and it will let you know. And, they come brine d with a salt solution or smoke cured [...]

By |2019-04-11T21:58:45+00:00April 11th, 2019|Easter, Food|0 Comments

Spooky Halloween Shrunken Head Sliders

By Kent Whitaker Have you ever eaten a shrunken head with melted Colby and Pepper Jack cheese? Who says that Halloween is just for handing out candy and popcorn balls to neighborhood kids? It’s time to toss in some fun foodie ideas that are well suited for the kitchen or grill. And, why not make it fun, kind of gross… and yet packed with flavor? For any other article this recipe would simply be for a burger with some spicy seasoning, steamed onions, a tangy jalapeno mustard BBQ sauce and gherkin pickle wedges. For Halloween, this recipe transforms into something a bit more fun. Tell your family, or guests, you’re serving up Shrunken Head Sliders with tape worms, zombie sauce and alien fingers… with cheese! Remember, you’re having fun and getting into the Halloween spirit, pun intended, but that’s no reason to forget about making a great tasting dish. I suggest that you make a blended burger for extra flavor. I suggest combining ground beef with ground Italian sausage. Or, ground turkey and black bean burgers. If you break up the beans your ground turkey will have a creepy purple tint to them – perfect for Halloween! The “zombie sauce” mentioned above is one of my standard quick and easy “cheater junk sauces.” That’s where you have some sauce in the fridge and you add some extra “junk” to it for bonus flavor. For this I combined a mustard based barbecue sauce with a splash of honey and store bought chopped jalapenos. Use these recipe as a starting point for your creative ideas and have fun! Easy Beef & Italian Sausage Burgers 1 pound lean ground beef, 80/20 1/2 pound Italian sausage, ground Salt and pepper to taste Steak sauce Cajun seasoning Cheese Combine the beef and ground Italian sausage in a bowl and season with salt and pepper. Form into equally sized meatballs about the size of a golf ball. Next, flatten each ball while pinching one side into a thinner piece forming a skeleton head type of shape. Next, season each side with a light brushing of steak sauce and a few dashes of Cajun seasoning. Grill, bake or broil as you normally would. Use tiny slices of cheese for x’s representing stitched eyes and for the mouth. I used pepper jack. Serve hot on toasted slider buns covered in cheese with zombie sauce, steamed onion slices and gherkin pickle wedges. Serve open faced. Kent “The Deck Chef” Whitaker is the former winner of the [...]

By |2019-03-14T23:29:54+00:00October 4th, 2017|BBQ, BBQ Recipes, Halloween|1 Comment

Cinco de Mayo, means freedom

Cinco de Mayo,  Grito de Dolores honors Mexican independence. Cinco de Mayo proves she deserves it. Yet Mexico’s future was uncertain concurrent the American Civil War. In 1861, France peered across the Atlantic and saw a distraction. Hitherto, Mexico owed several backers large interest sums. France would make her pay by force! But there was an ulterior motive. A Tale of Two Presidents President Lincoln understood that a Mexican alliance was pivotal to Union victory. Mexico’s President Benito Juarez was happy to oblige – European puppet governments were legitimate concerns. United States policy discouraged European nations from intervening. Conversely, France’s Emperor Napoleon III would profit from Confederate victory. Union occupation halted French trade. Without Union policy holding them back, France was free to engage Mexico. A True Underdog Story And it did, despite standing policy. Lincoln’s Union was pre-occupied and could not intervene. French military covered Mexico like a plague. There were two French soldiers for every one Mexican! Mexico City was destined to fall, but not before one of the biggest upsets in military history. On May 5th, under General Zaragoza’s command, Mexico’s army repelled France at ‘Puebla’. Word travelled internationally. The improbable victory emboldened Mexican’s home and abroad. The Fight for Freedom Continued resistance made France’s endeavour fruitless. America, eventually reunited, pressured France into relinquishing control. Napoleon III’s puppet emperor was executed and President Juarez returned to power. Cinco de Mayo (“Five of May”) remembers Mexico’s struggle and acknowledges her spirit. Celebrating at the Turn of the Century Cinco de Mayo enjoyed renewed American interest following the 1960’s. Today, Cinco de Mayo ceremonies are held in every state. In fact, General Zaragoza’s birthplace, Goliad, Texas, is the official celebration location. Puebla, however, still boasts being Cinco de Mayo’s largest celebratory location. Participants re-enact the conflict between Mexican and French soldiers. (We hate to ruin a surprise, but Mexico always wins.) Food, song, and dance proceed. Color floats and piñatas adorn Puebla’s streets. Adult and child alike scarf down plate after plate of Mole Poblano. Ingredients like chili pepper and chocolate make a unique juxtaposition for your palate. Tequila is, naturally, imbibed liberally. In recent years, focus has been placed on international music plus traditional Mexican artists. United we Stand Benito Juarez remarked that Mexico would be wise to imitate her neighbour’s democratic principles. Lincoln and Juarez had mutual affection, despite never meeting. Cinco de Mayo reminds all nations that freedom is worth striving for.

By |2019-03-15T02:28:57+00:00April 29th, 2016|Cinco de Mayo, Festivals, Holidays|0 Comments

Bits and Tidbits about Sparklers

A sparkler is a form of firework that you can normally hold safely in your hands. Unlike firecrackers, it is not meant to explode. Unlike roman candles, it does not discharge stars or comet shells. Instead, it burns slowly and steadily while emitting a brilliant, sometimes colored, shower of sparks. In the United States, it is customary to celebrate the Fourth of July with sparklers along with other fireworks display. Sparklers fall under the “1.4G” in the federal U.S. Fireworks Classification, meaning they are consumer fireworks that you can ordinarily buy from any retail outlet without any special permit. However, some states may impose additional restrictions. In fact, in Delaware, Massachusetts, New York and New Jersey, all kinds of consumer fireworks are not allowed. In Colorado, consumer fireworks that are not explicitly permitted by the state’s law are deemed prohibited. Fortunately, sparklers are among those explicitly permitted by the state, along with fountains, ground spinners, glow worms, trick noisemakers and other novelty items. How are sparklers made? Typically, a sparkler consists of a wire or stick that has been dipped into a slurry or batter of pyrotechnic chemicals, including aluminum, magnesium, iron or zinc dust, potassium chloride, charcoal, and a solution of dextrin and boric acid with water. Other ingredients may be added to produce special effects. For instance, if barium nitrate is added, you will have green sparks. If strontium nitrate is used instead, you will have red sparks. If ferrotitanium is mixed, you will have golden sparks. The chemicals however have to be exactly proportioned according to formula. Otherwise, there is risk that they may explode. Once dried, when one end of the chemically-coated wire or stick is ignited, it will slowly burn until it reaches the un-coated part. If made according to exact specifications, the un-coated end of the wire or stick should be safe to hold while the sparkler is in the process of burning. History of sparklers Most historians generally credit the Chinese for having invented gunpowder and fireworks around 2,000 years ago. However, it was the Germans who were actually responsible for making the first sparklers in recorded history according to Dennis Manochio Sr., the curator of the Fourth of July Americana & Fireworks Museum in Saratoga, California, and the historian of the American Pyrotechnic Association. According to Manochio’s account, around the 1850s, the Germans learned to dip wire into a paste of gunpowder and iron dust to make wunderkerzen, literally meaning “sparklers.” In 1894, they introduced aluminum into the formula [...]

By |2019-03-15T02:10:33+00:00June 30th, 2014|4th July, Holidays, Sparklers|1 Comment

Fireworks and Safety for the 4th of July

Fireworks are part of the July 4th celebrations. They are synonymous to the nation’s birthday as backyard barbecues, parades down the main street, and apple pie. They are relatively safe if only people use their common sense. There are also some easy to follow rules that make handling fireworks in County fairgrounds safer. But even with the rules, it seems like people ignore the rules. Each year people are brought to the emergency room due to fireworks-related injuries around the July 4th celebrations. People should remember that fireworks are dangerous and can cause serious burns. If you are tasked to set up fireworks at the county fairgrounds, there are some things that you must do first. One of the first things you need to do is to make sure you have already appointed a firing team. It should be composed of no more than three people with one person serving as the leader of the group. Members of the firing team must have experience of lighting fireworks and have knowledge of safety regulations.   Organizing the Fireworks Display You must ensure that the firing site can accommodate all the fireworks you intend to fire. There must be ample spacing in order to avoid accidental firing of fireworks. Don’t forget to read the instructions on all the fireworks. Each item behaves differently and might be required to be set up and installed in several ways. Make sure that the right side is facing the audience, especially the fan style cakes. There are some types that are required to be buried in soft earth or attached to wooden stakes buried in the ground. These are candles, fountains, and cakes. If they are attached to wooden stakes, they should be attached with strong cloth tape to ensure that the firework stays behind the stake and doesn’t fall over or face the crowd. The fireworks must be angled away from the crowd. If the weather is not too nice, you can use plastic bags to keep fireworks dry. Some fountains have a cone shape and make them hard to be attached to anything. You can place the fountain on a flat surface and avoid placing it on the grass that could make the firework unstable and tip over. Rockets should be launched from tubes. You can make a DIY project using plumbing pipe. Just make sure that the stick of the rocket can freely liftoff form the pipe. It must not get stuck in the pipe. If the rocket has a [...]

Of Irish Beers and Green Beers

Ireland is known as the “Emerald Isle” but that is not because it is there that the green beer we traditionally have on Saint Patrick’s Day comes from. In fact, the customary practice of having green beer on Saint Patrick’s Day did not even originate from Ireland. More likely, this is a homegrown American tradition. In Ireland, the most widely-sold beer is Guinness, the popular brand name of an Irish dry stout brew. In every pub in Ireland, there are always multiple taps of Guinness. Worldwide, Guinness is also one of the most in demand brand. This brand of beer is very dark, almost black, and is known for its strong roast flavor which leaves a distinctive aftertaste. Aside from Guinness, there are other best selling brands of Irish beers like Smithwick’s, Ohara’s Celtic Stout, Porterhouse’s Oyster Stout, Kilkenny Irish Cream Ale, Murphy’s Irish Red, Murphy’s Irish Stout, Beamish Irish Stout, and Black Rock Irish Stout. They are all excellent beers but none of them come in green. But how did this tradition of having green-colored beer on Saint Patrick’s Day really started? One account has it that the practice was first popularized by Coleman’s Authentic Irish Pub in Tipperary Hill, Syracuse, New York, which has been holding an annual “Green Beer Day” to kick-off the Saint Patrick’s Day festivities in the area since the early 1960s. Another account has it that the practice originated much earlier. An article at the Ellensberg Daily Record, a circa 1914 newspaper based in Washington, said that “the Palace Cafe Saloon will feature green beer on St. Patrick’s Day.” According to the story, a certain Dr. Curtin, a coroner's physician, created the concoction by putting a drop of "wash blue" dye in an unspecified quantity of beer. Whatever the actual date of origin, the idea of having green beer on Saint Patrick’s Day caught on and became a nationwide fad. Eventually, the fad, instead of fading like most fads do, apparently took roots and evolved to become another American tradition. So how do you make green beer? It’s really easy. For a standard-sized beer mug, just put 4 to 6 drops of green liquid food coloring, then pour the beer. You could also try blue but you could end up with a bluish green beer rather than the perfect emerald green beer. For a big pitcher, use 20 to 25 drops. Enjoy as soon as done. Don’t stir as this could make the beer taste flat. If you are partial to [...]

By |2017-07-02T21:43:38+00:00March 8th, 2014|Irish Beer|0 Comments