Category Archives: Cooking

French Dining in Hoover, Alabama

Chicken Fricasee – our end of France trip dinner!

Or Chicken Fricassee a la Julia Child…

When my food and wine trip to France was cancelled early this year, it was disappointing to me and my husband, to say the least.  Creating the #31 Days of France Project was a nice diversion but I felt like I needed something really big to end on.  So, on the day we would have returned from France, I decided to make a French meal for us to enjoy.  (Related Reading: 31 Days of France – Part 1 and 31 Days of France – Part Deux)

This may not seem like that big of a deal, but I’ve never been that into cooking.  When my kids were little, they used to ask me that inevitable question, “Mom…what’s for supper?”  And I would say, “why are you asking me?  You know your dad is the one who cooks!”  I mean, I do have certain things that I like to make but for the most part, Eddie is the one thinking ahead about what to make for meals.  But for our French dinner, I wanted to be the one to tackle this one!

After reading a book about Julia Child, and watching the movie Julie and Julia, I got inspired to try one of her recipes.  I thought about her beef bourguignon, but honestly, I was a little intimidated.  So, after a trip to the grocery store to buy all the ingredients, I was ready to prepare our French inspired dinner on Friday, May 29th

Some of the Chicken Fricassee ingredients

The ingredients:

  • 2 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 lb. skin-on-bone-in chicken thighs
  • Kosher Salt
  • Ground Black Pepper
  • 2 tbsp. butter
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 1 celery stalk, chopped
  • 1 large carrot, peeled and chopped
  • 9 oz. mushrooms, sliced
  • 2 tbsp. all-purpose flour
  • ½ cup white wine
  • 2 cups of low-sodium chicken broth
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 2 tbsp. chopped parsley
  • 2 tsp. thyme leaves

The directions called for heating the olive oil in a skillet.  Then I seasoned the chicken with salt and pepper and put all four pieces into the skillet to cook until “golden” – five minutes per side.  This is when things started to get a bit smoky.  I had the fan on over the stove, opened the back and front doors to get the smoke moving!  I was worried the smoke alarm would go off!  Luckily that didn’t happen.

Once the chicken was browned, I put it aside to pull the other ingredients together.  In the same skillet, I added butter, onion, carrots, celery and mushrooms to cooked until soft.  This took about 5 minutes.  Then I added flour and cooked it all another minute or two before adding the wine and scraping the skillet to get anything on the bottom of the pan mixed in.  I let this concoction cook for about 6 minutes. 

Next came the broth and cream and then the parsley, thyme, salt and pepper.  Once combined, it was time to add the chicken and simmer all together for about 15 minutes while the chicken continued to cook and the sauce thickened.  I have to admit…it looked fantastic and I told my husband I hoped it tasted as good as it looked! 

Before we enjoyed this meal together, I made us each a French themed cocktail with Lillet, a French aperitif wine.  Very refreshing!  That’s when we facetimed with our friends, The Pruitt’s, who were supposed to be on the trip with us.  They were having their own French themed dinner that night too.  We shared cocktails and then said our goodbyes to enjoy our meals.  I had found a 60s French Pop Radio station on Pandora earlier in the month and really enjoyed listening, so for our meal I had it playing softly in the background. 

After a lovely fresh salad, we were ready for the main course.  And BOY!!!!  It did NOT disappoint!  We topped it off with a Chateauneuf duPape red wine that I had found on a recent trip to the Clairmont Piggly Wiggly.  They have an amazing French wine selection there.  On our trip, we would have been sampling this particular wine at a special event so this made up for it just a tad bit.  For dessert, I went simple with chocolate eclairs and macarons.  Magnifique!

My chicken fricassee dinner was a delicious end to my #31 Days of France project and I have to say, it got me interested in cooking too!  Well…maybe just a bit. 

Tamales and Cole Slaw? Yep!

HICA tamales with a side of Salsa Senorita spicy cole slaw!

HICA tamales with a side of Salsa Senorita spicy cole slaw!

So you say you want to enjoy a complete meal of tamales and something else…but what? What do you add to tamales to make it even more delicious? Why not cole slaw!

Lori works on the slaw ingredients while Jessica Chriesman does some filming.

Lori works on the slaw ingredients while Jessica Chriesman does some filming.

I filmed a video with Lori Sours – better known as Salsa Senorita – a few weeks back to promote the HICA tamale sale. She has some great recipes made with her wonderful salsa and I was surprised to find she added her salsa to cole slaw. She gave me a little demo in this video (posted below) and I tell you…it was delicious!!! My husband and I are not a big fans of mayo but you really can’t tell there is even mayo in it with all the other added ingredients. I have never heard of adding honey either.  I mean really? HONEY? But it’s the unexpected that really makes the difference in recipes, isn’t it?

I loved filming with Lori…she is such a natural on the camera and we had a great time talking about New Mexico and her salsa and how she got started in the salsa business. We filmed 4 segments in one day under the eye of Jessica Chriesman – a recent UAB Film graduate. She did a fabulous job showcasing Lori’s salsa recipes and also highlighting the HICA tamale sale.

Lori Sour's spicy cole slaw before it all got mixed together...

Lori Sour’s spicy cole slaw before it all got mixed together…

HICA – the Hispanic Interest Coalition of Alabama – sells tamales each year as their signature fundraising event. The organization has sold over 70,000 tamales since 2003 and in the process have introduced a wonderful part of Mexican culture to the Birmingham community. We hope to sell 18,000 this year and we have two more days to do that! I hope that if you are in the Birmingham, Alabama area that you will consider buying a dozen, or two (or three!) and support the great work that HICA does in our Hispanic community!

Me and Lori after the filming was finished.

Me and Lori after the filming was finished.

Meanwhile…check out the video and jot down the spicy cole slaw recipe from Salsa Senorita!




Turkey Day 2015

My first Thanksgiving turkey and stuffing - all by myself!

My first Thanksgiving turkey and stuffing – all by myself!

I have a confession to make…this is the first year that I’ve prepared an entire Thanksgiving meal by myself.  Yep…that’s right!  I’ve never in all my life done this…but this year I decided it was time.

We had already celebrated Thanksgiving with the extended Odom family last Saturday.  My brother-in-law, Terry, did the honors where the cooking was concerned.  We brought the “big” cookie and some great wine.  Before my sister-in-law passed away, she and my other sister-in-law typically did all the cooking.  We had quite a banter going back and forth about the food.  They would tease me because I didn’t cook and so I was always given the task of bringing the drinks and desserts.  This usually consisted of pies from Costco.  (FYI – This was before the big cookie made it’s appearance in recent years.)  I joked that my culinary expertise was so great that I had sold my pie recipe to Costco so why should I make them when I could buy them!  In reality, I told them one year not too long ago, that it didn’t make sense for me to cook since they were both so good at it!  It was the truth too, not just a line to get out of doing the work.  Their Thanksgiving menu was always fabulous!

Over the past few years, I’ve wanted to learn more about how to make our Zuniga traditional Thanksgiving meal – in particular the turkey and stuffing – so I asked my mother to teach me and my daughters what to do.  I took pictures of the process and also wrote the directions down – which I can’t seem to find now.  She loved doing this with us and we a blast learning her method of cooking.  Anyway, my mother went to Chicago this year to be with my sister and her family and since Eddie and I were going to be home with two of our three kids this Thanksgiving, we decided to get a turkey and make a traditional meal.  Rather, he bought the turkey and “I” made the traditional meal!

Deviled eggs...a little mayo, mustard and sweet pickle relish.  Delish!

Deviled eggs…a little mayo, mustard and sweet pickle relish. Delish!

I made the stuffing (or dressing) and stuffed the bird close to midnight last night.  I had enough for a casserole dish of dressing on the side.  I also made deviled eggs because these are a staple at every Thanksgiving meal!  The heavenly aroma of turkey woke me up early and my husband nudged me out of bed so I could check on the bird and turn the oven off.  We got up to make breakfast for the family – my daughter Anna Marie and her new hubby Ryan came by for French toast before heading out-of-town this afternoon.  While they were here, I made the other preparations… peeled potatoes, got the mac and cheese ready, green beans and almonds in a pan and finally, took a shot at making giblet gravy.  It was a little thick (I think I used too much flour), but it did the trick and everyone seemed to enjoy it on their food.

Enough food for an army!

Enough food for an army!

My brother-in-law and sister-law, Allen and Rhonda came over to join us for our Thanksgiving meal.  It was a small group but it was really nice and relaxing once we got our plates fixed and sat at the dining room table to eat, talk, laugh and share stories.

Pumpkin pie and apple/cranberry pie were the dessert choices.  I’ll have one of each please with a little whipped cream!  It was a great day and I’m tired now but it’s a good tired.  I feel great about being able to make this wonderful meal for my family and we have plenty of leftovers for tomorrow and the weekend!

Happy Thanksgiving y’all!  I hope you and your family had a wonderful day together too!

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Salsa Senorita’s Easy Cheese Dip!

The HICA tamale sale is just two days away!  Thanksgiving day!!!  The tamale sale is HICA’s signature event and you don’t want to miss out.  Go to to order your tamales.  You have until December 11th and pick up day is at the HICA offices on December 18th.

As I mentioned in a previous post, we partnered with Lori Sours of Salsa Senorita to produce 4 videos using her salsa and recipes and our tamales!  Lori will have her salsa on sale during pick up day too if you want to pick up a jar or two (or three!) that day.  A portion of the proceeds will benefit HICA.

Here is the latest video in partnership with Salsa Senorita and produced by Jessica Chriesman.  This one features an easy cheese dip you can pour over the tamales and enjoy.  Featured in the video is Maricela Garcia, a HICA board member.  Mari was recently honored by the Alabama Media Group as one of 34 women who shape the state!

Meanwhile…enjoy the video and hope to see you on tamale pick up day if you are in the Birmingham area!

The HICA Tamale Sale is BACK!

Ready to wear my HICA Tamale Sale t-shirt for tamale pick up day on December 18th!  Buy some tamales and come by and see me!

Ready to wear my HICA Tamale Sale t-shirt for tamale pick up day on December 18th! Buy some tamales and come by and see me!

In a previous post, I shared a story and photos about a new way HICA is marketing our tamale sale this year…via YouTube video!!!  This may not seem like a big deal to most people in the grand scheme of things, but it’s something brand new for HICA – using video to tell our story, and we are so excited!

As promised, I’m posting the first in a four-part series of videos featuring Salsa Senorita’s Lori Sours who shares a delicious salsa recipe in each.  Lori is partnering with HICA again this year and we’ll have a large supply of her salsa on hand for purchase during tamale pick up day on Friday, Dec 18th at the HICA offices.

We also have a new feature for purchase this year.  In addition to the 1/2 dozen and full dozen tamales for sale in either pork, chicken or cheese & pepper fillings, you’ll have the option of purchasing something we are calling “All That and a Bag of Chips!”  This includes two 1/2 dozen orders of tamales, tortilla chips and a jar of Salsa Senorita – your flavor choice, all in a holiday bag!  So for that person who is hard to buy for or who has everything…why not pick up this new item for a Christmas or holiday gift?!

Remember, if you are in the Birmingham area, the tamale sale begins on Thanksgiving day and ends Friday, Dec 11th.  Go to to make your purchase after you’ve had time to digest all that Thanksgiving turkey you’ll be devouring on Thursday!

Meanwhile, enjoy the video first HICA tamale promo video – created by Jessica Chriesman – and see how Lori makes a fantastic michelada beer cocktail using  her very own salsa!

Easy Peasy Taco Soup!

IMG_9639When the weather starts getting a little cooler I start thinking of Taco Soup!  Not just any taco soup, mind you…but my husband’s taco soup!

I don’t know where he got the recipe but I tell you, it’s the best!  He always makes a huge pot – is there any other way?  So we are guaranteed to have leftovers for a few days afterward.

IMG_9637This recipe calls for the following to make one batch but seriously now, we always double this!

  • 1 lb lean ground beef (or turkey)
  • 1 onion, chopped (optional)
  • 1 pkg El Paso taco seasoning
  • 1 pkg dry Ranch seasoning
  • 1 can Rotel tomatoes (undrained)
  • 1 can black beans (drained)
  • 1 can pinto beans (undrained)
  •  can whole kernel corn (drained)
  • 1 cup water

Brown the meat and the onion.  Drain this mixture.  In a large crock pot, combine the meat mixture, Rotel, drained black beans, pinto beans, and corn.  Add taco seasonings, ranch seasoning and water.  Simmer until it is all well blended and HOT!  Add grated cheese or sour cream for your toppings.  Don’t forget corn chips or cornbread!

Everything was ready just in time for us to sit down and watch the Alabama vs. LSU football game tonight!  ROLL TIDE!!!  And buen procecho!


Anybody else out there have a special taco soup recipe they would like to share?  Hope you enjoy ours!  Here are a few shots of the process…I’m so lucky to have a “chef” for a hubby!

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Mexican Wedding Cookies – My Favorite Christmas Cookie!

IMG_8436Every year I have my annual Christmas cookie swap party.  Everyone brings 12 dozen (yes! you read that right!) of their one favorite cookie and you leave with 12 dozen different cookies.  I have the party the first week of December so that everyone can enjoy and share the cookies during the month of December for family gatherings, to use as gifts, or just eat them all themselves!

The cookies I make every year without fail?  The Mexican Wedding cookie!  It is my all time favorite cookie and it was my dad’s favorite cookie as well.  I remember my mother always making these cookies for him and how much he loved them.  He had a sweet tooth for certain things and Mexican Wedding cookies was one of those things!

My mother passed her recipe down to me and I am proud to say I can make them almost as well as she does.  This year I decided to document the process in photos.  They are an easy cookie to make and oh so good!  But as I was making them, I was curious about their origin.  I mean, where did they get their name and why were they also called Russian Tea Cakes?

So I did a little research online and found a great history from Chef Miguel Ravago, co-founder of Fonda San Miguel in Austin, Texas.  I noticed his mother’s recipe, that he shares in the cookbook – Baking From the Heart – includes cinnamon.  My mother’s does not, but it got me interested in trying this at some point.  It reminded me of another favorite Mexican cookie – bizcochitos that I also love and can’t get enough of when I visit my family in New Mexico!  My cousin Nelinda makes a bizcochito to DIE for!

Chef Ravago says the origin of this cookie is Arabic and was taken to Mexico by the Spaniards.  They are called Polvorones de Canela – polvorones meaning “dust” because the cookies are covered in powdered sugar and canela – meaning cinnamon.  He recalled how his mother would always have these cookies baked every week to have after church to enjoy along with a Mexican chocolate drink.  But polvorones are also part of most Mexican weddings – they are gathered into a pyramid at the receptions making a gorgeous white centerpiece and stacked very high so everyone can reach them.   At weddings these cookies are best enjoyed with a glass of  anise liqueur – according to Ravago’s grandfather.

IMG_8842Here is my mother’s recipe:  1 cup butter or margarine; 1/2 cup sifted confectioners sugar; 1 tsp. vanilla; 2-1/4 cups of all-purpose flour (do not use self-riding flour); 1/4 tsp. salt, and 3/4 cups finely chopped nuts (I use pecans).  Mix butter, sugar and vanilla thoroughly.  Measure flour by dipping method or by sifting.  Stir flour and salt together; blend in.  mix in nuts.  Chill dough.

You then heat the oven to 400 degrees.  Roll dough in 1 inch balls.  Place on ungreased baking sheet.  Cookies do not spread.  Bake 10-12 minutes, or until set but not brown.  While still warm, roll in confectioners sugar.  Cool.  Roll in sugar again.  This recipe makes about 4 dozen 1 inch cookies.

I still don’t know why these are called Russian Tea Cakes…but they will always be Mexican cookies to me.


I doubled my recipe so this is really 2 cups of butter!

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Adding in the confectioners sugar…


Next comes the vanilla…I love the smell of vanilla, don’t you?

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Adding the all purpose flour to the butter, sugar and vanilla mixture.


The mixing is complete…the temptation to start spooning out this mixture for snacking is great…


Chopping up the pecans into smaller bits to add to the mixture.


Adding the pecans to the mix


Mixture is ready and the confectioner sugar is on standby for the rolling to begin!


Rolling the mixture into one inch balls to bake for 10-12 minutes at 400 degrees.

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Ready to go into the oven!

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Bake at 400 degrees…

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They definitely don’t change much after baking…but they definitely smell terrific!


The confectioners sugar clings to these warm little nuggets!


The finished product! Actually, after they cooled a bit, I rolled them again for added sugar high!




Did Somebody Say SALSA?!!

IMG_8074Chances are, if you’ve been to any Zuniga-Odom gatherings over the past fifteen years, you’ve sampled my mother’s famous salsa.  And chances are, you’ve left that gathering wanting the recipe!  It never fails to leave an impression and now when my friends and extended family see my mom at one of my parties, they KNOW there will be salsa!  What can I say…it’s delicious and addicting too!

I went over to my mother’s house the Tuesday before Thanksgiving to watch her make her famous salsa.  She was ready to get started as soon as I walked in the door.  In fact, she had been cooking all day and even sent me home with Puerto Rican chicken and rice a few hours later.  Our Odom family Thanksgiving dinner is on Thursday, and as I said, if mom is there – so is her salsa!

IMG_8035Mom had been to Mi Pueblo Supermarket in Pelham earlier in the day to pick up her salsa ingredients.  The most prominent items were the 20 or so Roma tomatoes she had all washed and cleaned in a silver colander.  She immediately began cutting them up and chopping them into small pieces.

As she chopped, I asked her about the recipe and where it came from.  She reminded me about a time about 15 years ago when we went to dinner at the home of a young woman I had met a work who was of Mexican decent.  Her mother lived with her and she had cooked up a huge spread of wonderful Mexican food for all the guests.  Mom reminded me that she watched the mother make salsa that day and how delicious it was and how she wanted to recreate the recipe for our family.  After the evening with our friends, she came home and talked to my dad about the salsa and ingredients.  She said to me, “After we got married, your dad taught me how to cook, PERIOD!”  (My mind flashed back to our Christmas eve enchiladas…but I’ll leave that for another blog post.)  So, naturally she wanted to run the ingredients by him and get his stamp of approval.  Then, she went on to add her own personal touches and “Barb Zuniga’s Salsa” was born!

IMG_8064After chopping up all the tomatoes, mom chopped up 2 medium-sized sweet Vidalia onions and added them to the tomato mix.  Next, she chopped up about 1-1/2 bunches of cilantro and mixed it in – oh my…that stuff smells soooo good!

She then opened 1 can of Hatch Chopped green chiles mild (4 oz. can) and 1 (3.3 oz.) can of La Costeña Green Chiles – diced, and added them to the bowl stirring everything together.

Next she started adding a pinch of this and a dash of that…and that when I said to her “you’re cooking the old-fashioned way!  I need some more specifics here!”  She slowed down and said, “yes, I guess you could say you need to add about 1/4 teaspoon of salt (as she sprinkled salt over the mixture from the container) and about 1 teaspoon of garlic.  Next she squeezed about 1 tablespoon of lemon juice over the mix.  And finally, about a tablespoon and a 1/2 of sugar “to give it the right flavor!”

IMG_8068As I took pictures of the proceedings, I couldn’t wait to grab a tortilla chip and sample the salsa.  We both did and it tasted perfect to me.  Mom wasn’t convinced and said “needs a little more salt” and proceeded to sprinkle a bit more salt into the bowl.  She said “you gotta have that kick but also a little sweet taste!”  We sampled again…more perfection and deliciousness…

She quickly filled 2-1/2 Ball Mason jars with the salsa.  Once we open these jars on Thanksgiving day, the flavors will have blended together so well that I don’t think we’ll be able to keep the family away from the salsa and chip bowl!

There are many salsa recipes out there but I have to say…my mom’s recipe is my favorite!


Mom chops up the cilantro for the salsa mix.


Mom mixes in the cilantro to the chopped Roma tomatoes.

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Mom poses with the finished product…3 jars of her famous salsa!