Fruit Centerpiece

Once in a while, I get to do something really fun: a wedding reception. And last Saturday was a special day for a very special young lady in my church. Beautiful Betsy got married to Gentry John. And I was thrilled when she asked me to do her wedding reception back in October.

She wanted something very simple and tasty for her families who will be coming from up North. A little taste of the South, she said. Well, since I am a South Korean, I qualify to cook "Southern", right?. I did my best to please my dear friend. Here was the menu:

For hors d'ouevres for guests while waiting for the wedding party:
Fresh Fruit Display
Baked Shrimp & Artichoke Dip with Crostini
Assorted Cheese and Crackers

For Main Buffet:
Panko Fried Chicken with Red Chili Sauce
Roasted Pork Tenderloin with Horseradish Cream
Barbie's Yeast Rolls
Mashed Potato Casserole
Parmesan Stuffed Tomatoes
Garden Salad with Savannah Mustard Vinaigrette

Wedding Cake from Baker's Pride

I will post some of the recipes next few days, but today I wanted to show you how a beautiful fruit display can be done. The idea was provided by my dear friend, Robbie, who gave me a magazine clipping from Southern Living. Then, my friend Trish and I took the concept into what it is now.

For fresh fruit bowls, halve the melons (cantaloupes, small watermelons, honey dews can be used), and after scooping out the cantaloupe with a melon-baller, gently and evenly scrape out the meat. Then using an exacto-knife, carve scallop edges, by cutting a sharp "v" into cut edges.

Secure the layers of floral foam with wooden dowels. You will need to cut the dowels to size. Leave the original plastic cover on. DO NOT use oasis floral foam. You can be creative on how you want the shape and size.

Typically, I like to use banana leaves from my garden, but since it is now spring and the tropical plant leaves are not available yet, so I used the collard green leaves instead. Using floral pins and leaves, cover all parts of green foam.

Put plastic table cover under the foam base to protect cloth linens. Layer leaves on top to cover the plastic and also to create more space for fruit bowls and other fruits.

Secure a whole pineapple top by inserting about 2 inch of a 6-inch wooden dowel into the base of the fruit, then remaining dowel into the top of the foam block. Use floral pins to secure the upright pineapple.

Pin empty fruit bowels onto foam base, angling in attractive ways. Use greenery from your garden, such as gardenias, Youpons, camellias, or any variegated leaves to cover metal pins.

Fill fruit bowls with cut fruit, decorate areas with other fruit such as papayas and strawberries.

Here are some larger displays which my friend Trish and I did a few years ago. You can add fresh vegetables or cheeses, also.

This strawberry topiary was done using a conical floral foam and tooth picks.

Allow yourself about 2-4 hours to put together a centerpiece, depending on the size, plus the prep time for cutting fruit and fruit bowls. Plan ahead and cut fruit and make fruit bowls up to 2 days(pineapple, cantaloupes, watermelons). All garnishing leaves can be cut a day before, covered in plastic with a damp paper towel.

Wash grapes and strawberries on the day you are using. Using scissors, cut the grapes into small clusters so they can be pinned onto foam blocks.

For this size fruit centerpiece:
8 pounds of strawberries
5 fresh pineapples (1 reserved for top)
4 cantaloupes
9 pounds of grapes (mixed red & green)
1 papaya

2 large bunches of collard greens or banana leaves when available

2 rectangular floral foams (24x12x2)
1 block foam (4x4x4)
Floral pins (get green coated ones)
8 wooden dowels (1/4 diameter)

Garnishing leaves or flowers from your garden


Minted Brownies

If you like York Peppermint patties, you will love these brownies! Rich, moist brownie topped with cool peppermint icing and glazed with chocolate....please don't count the calories when you take a bite of this scrumptious dessert.

The quickest way to melt the chocolate and butter in large volume is in a double boiler.

Make sure your butter is very soft when you mix confectioner sugar.

Brownies must be cool before minted icing is spread or you will have a big, white mess. Trust me, I know.

Gently rock the pan back and forth to spread the melted chocolate instead of using icing spatula. Top with toasted pecans if you want.

Cool brownie completely in the refrigerator before you cut. Cover with plastic wrap. It will keep up to three days in the refrigerator.

Recipe by Cooks Illustrated

Classic Brownies
1 cup pecans or walnuts (4 ounces), chopped medium (optional)
1 1/4 cups plain cake flour (5 ounces)
1/2 teaspoon table salt
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
6 ounces unsweetened chocolate , chopped fine
12 tablespoons unsalted butter (1 1/2 sticks), cut into six 1-inch pieces
2 1/4 cups sugar (15 3/4 ounces)
4 large eggs
1 tablespoon vanilla extract

Mint Frosting
1 stick unsalted butter (equaling 8 tablespoons) softened
2 cups confectioners' sugar (8 ounces)
1 - 2 tablespoons milk
1 teaspoon mint-flavored extract

Chocolate Glaze
4 ounces bittersweet chocolate , chopped, or 4 ounces chopped semisweet chocolate
4 tablespoons unsalted butter

1. Adjust oven rack to middle position; heat oven to 325 degrees. Cut 18-inch length foil and fold lengthwise to 8-inch width. Fit foil into length of 13- by 9-inch baking dish, pushing it into corners and up sides of pan; allow excess to overhang pan edges. Cut 14-inch length foil and, if using extra-wide foil, fold lengthwise to 12-inch width; fit into width of baking pan in same manner, perpendicular to first sheet. Spray foil-lined pan with nonstick cooking spray.

2. Spread nuts (if using) evenly on rimmed baking sheet and toast in oven until fragrant, 5 to 8 minutes. Set aside to cool.

3. Whisk to combine flour, salt, and baking powder in medium bowl; set aside.

4. Melt chocolate and butter in large heatproof bowl set over saucepan of almost--simmering water, stirring occasionally, until smooth. (Alternatively, in microwave, heat butter and chocolate in large microwave-safe bowl on high for 45 seconds, then stir and heat for 30 seconds more. Stir again, and, if necessary, repeat in 15-second increments; do not let chocolate burn.) When chocolate mixture is completely smooth, remove bowl from saucepan and gradually whisk in sugar. Add eggs one at time, whisking after each addition until thoroughly combined. Whisk in vanilla. Add flour mixture in three additions, folding with rubber spatula until batter is completely smooth and homogeneous.

5. Transfer batter to prepared pan; using spatula, spread batter into corners of pan and smooth surface. Sprinkle toasted nuts (if using) evenly over batter and bake until toothpick or wooden skewer inserted into center of brownies comes out with few moist crumbs attached, 30 to 35 minutes. Cool on wire rack to room temperature, about 2 hours.

6. When the brownies are cool, leave them in the pan.

7. FOR MINT FROSTING: In the bowl of a standing mixer or with a handheld mixer, beat butter and confectioners' sugar at low speed until just incorporated, then increase the speed to medium and beat until smooth and fluffy, about 1 1/2 minutes. Add 1 tablespoon milk and mint extract and continue to beat until combined, about 30 seconds, adding up to 1 additional tablespoon milk if necessary to achieve a soft spreadable consistency. Using an offset spatula, spread the mint frosting evenly onto the cooled brownies, cover with foil, and refrigerate until firm, about 1 hour

8. FOR CHOCOLATE GLAZE: Melt chocolate and butter in a medium heatproof bowl set over a saucepan of barely simmering water, stirring occasionally, until smooth; set aside to cool slightly, about 10 minutes.

9. Pour the chocolate glaze on the frosted brownies; using an offset spatula, spread the glaze into an even layer. Cover with foil and refrigerate until firm, about 1 hour. Remove the brownies from the pan by lifting the foil overhang, cut into 2-inch squares, and serve. (Store leftovers in an airtight container in the refrigerator.)


Taco Seasoning

Since I cook in bulk, it is cheaper to make Taco seasoning for the church, not to mention better tasting. I have posted two recipes I use often.

Ground beef isn't the only option for tacos. You can use salmon or any other firm fish, or chicken and make soft tacos like these.

Chicken in Tomato-Basil Tortilla

To bring out more vivid flavor out of the spices, put a few tablespoons of taco seasoning in a frying pan and dry toast the spices for a few minutes (medium heat), before adding meat(ground beef) and cook together.

Taco Seasoning #1 (Makes about 1/2 cup)
3 tablespoons chili powder
3/4 teaspoon garlic powder
3/4 teaspoon onion powder
3/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes (or less than 1/2 tsp. of cayenne)
3/4 teaspoon dried oregano
1-1/2 teaspoons paprika
1 tablespoon and 1-1/2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 tablespoon sea salt
1 tablespoon black pepper

Taco Seasoning #2 - More like Taco Bell's Seasoning (Makes about 1/2 cup)
2 Tbls. all-purpose flour
2 Tbls. corn starch
2 Tbls. dried minced onion
2 tsp. beef bouillon granules OR 1 beef bouillon cube - crushed
2 tsp. garlic salt
2 tsp. ground cumin
2 tsp. paprika
2 tsp. chili powder
1 tsp. onion salt
1/2 tsp. cayenne pepper
1/2 tsp. granulated sugar

Mix all ingredients. Store in ziplock baggies in refrigerator or freezer.


Texas Sheet Cake

Moist, fudgy cake with scrumptious chocolate icing. This is by far the favorite dessert for IPC children!

We usually make it plain and simple without nuts for the children.

Recipe adapted Cooks Illustrated
Makes 24 pieces or 32 Smaller Pieces

2 cups all-purpose flour
2 cups sugar
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 large eggs plus 2 yolks
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/4 cup sour cream
8 ounces semisweet chocolate , chopped
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
3/4 cup vegetable oil
3/4 cup water
1/2 cup Dutch-processed cocoa powder

Chocolate Icing
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup Dutch-processed cocoa powder
1 tablespoon light corn syrup
3 cups confectioners' sugar
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1 cup toasted pecans , chopped

1. For the cake: Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 350 degrees. Grease 18- by 13-inch rimmed baking sheet. Combine flour, sugar, baking soda, and salt in large bowl. Whisk eggs and yolks, vanilla, and sour cream in another bowl until smooth.

2. Heat chocolate, butter, oil, water, and cocoa in large saucepan over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until smooth, 3 to 5 minutes. Whisk chocolate mixture into flour mixture until incorporated. Whisk egg mixture into batter, then pour into prepared baking pan. Bake until toothpick inserted into center comes out clean, 18 to 20 minutes. Transfer to wire rack.

3. For the icing: About 5 minutes before cake is done, heat butter, cream, cocoa, and corn syrup in large saucepan over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until smooth. Off heat, whisk in confectioners’ sugar and vanilla. Spread warm icing evenly over hot cake and sprinkle with pecans. Let cake cool to room temperature on wire rack, about 1 hour, then refrigerate until icing is set, about 1 hour longer. (Cake can be wrapped in plastic and refrigerated for up to 2 days. Bring to room temperature before serving.) Cut into 3-inch squares. Serve.



Visiting the Governor's Palace Kitchen in Williamsburg gave me a whole new appreciation for the modern conveniences I take for granted. With the simplest tools and a lot of hard labor, the past cooks were able to make the finest foods.

Here are some samples of food.

Pickled Carrots

Virginia Ham with Potato Cakes

Figs cured with Sugar for Dessert


Buttermilk Ranch Dressing

You will re-think about this very common salad dressing once you try this recipe! Packed with fresh herbs blended with mild tang of buttermilk is wonderful. Missions Conference attendees really enjoyed the salad made with this dressing.

This used to be what my husband had when he came home for lunch before I started working as a church cook! Those were the days....

Buttermilk Ranch Dressing

1/2 cup buttermilk
1/4 cup Hellmann's mayonnaise
6 tablespoon sour cream
1 tablespoon minced shallot
1 tablespoon minced fresh cilantro leaves
1 tablespoon minced fresh Italian parsley
1 medium clove garlic , minced
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon table salt
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper

Whisk all the ingredients together in a mixing bowl until smooth. Make the dressing a day for the flavor to blend. Do not use dry herbs. Refrigerate up to 5 days.

Note: For reduced fat, you can substitute Non-fat buttermilk, sour cream and low-fat mayo (Hellmann's light). But increase lemon juice to 2 Tablespoons and the pepper.


Orzo with Mixed Vegetables

Past two years at the IPC Missions Conference Dinners, I have served rice pilaf with Tim's world-famous grilled chicken. You would think an Asian cook wouldn't have any trouble cooking rice, but no. Cooking rice pilaf for my family of six could not be applied to cooking rice pilaf for 200.

To avoid another too dry or too gummy rice pilaf with no character, I have opted to make Orzo salad, rice shaped pasta. It was a much better option! I won't give up on rice pilaf for 200 people, yet. Will let you know when I get it right.

Vibrant colors of tri-colored pepppers and fresh Italian Parsley livens up this salad.

12 ounces orzo (rice-shaped pasta)
2 tablespoons to coat pasta
1 1/2 cups crumbled seasoned feta cheese (such as basil and tomato; about 6 ounces, or 4 cheese blend (Parmesan, Asiago, etc)
1 cup chopped red bell pepper, sauteed and cooled
1 cup chopped yellow bell pepper, sauteed and cooled
3/4 cup pitted Kalamata olives
1/2 cup of chopped Italian parsley
2 tablespoons drained capers
1 cup of jarred grilled artichoke hearts
Optional: grilled veggies of your choice

1/2 cup olive oil
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
2 cloves of garlic
1 whole shallot
3 sun dried tomato pieces (oil packed)
1 1/2 teaspoons dried oregano
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon ground cumin
Salt and Pepper to taste

3 tablespoons pine nuts, toasted (optional)

Cook orzo in large pot of boiling salted water until tender but not too soft. Drain. Rinse with cold water; drain well. Transfer to large bowl. Toss with 2 tablespoons olive oil.

In a blender put lemon juice, vinegar, garlic, shallot, sun dried tomato pieces, oregano, mustard and cumin. Blend for about 30 seconds, then with machine running, slowly pour 1/2 cup of oil until well emulsified. Season with salt and pepper.

Add dressing to orzo, vegetables, and cheese and toss to blend.

Note: Both dressing and pasta can be prepped two days in an advance.


Chocolate Blackout Cake

This recipe was inspired by CooksCountry.com. It is not the prettiest cake one can make, but the flavor of rich chocolate pudding with moist cake was great. Being Korean, chocolate is not on my list of favorite foods (OK, don't beat me up too much), but this cake had intense but well-balanced chocolate taste that will satisfy any chocolate lover.

Cool the cake and refrigerate the cake for an hour or two makes the slicing

Pudding also must be chilled before applying the layers.

If the crumbs are too moist, put in the oven for 5-8 minutes to dry out the crumbs and apply.

Making the cake the day before serving will give you a cleaner cut. Ours looked like a chocolate molten lava!

1 1/4 cups granulated sugar
1/4 cup plus 1 Tbsp. cornstarch
1/2 teaspoon table salt
2 cups half-and-half
1 cup whole milk
6 ounces unsweetened chocolate , chopped
2 teaspoons vanilla extract

8 tablespoons unsalted butter (1 stick), plus extra for greasing pans
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour , plus extra for dusting pans
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup Dutch-processed cocoa powder
1 cup brewed coffee
1 cup buttermilk
1 cup packed light brown sugar
1 cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1. For the pudding: Whisk sugar, cornstarch, salt, half-and-half, and milk in large saucepan. Set pan over medium heat. Add chocolate and whisk constantly until chocolate melts and mixture begins to bubble, 2 to 4 minutes. Stir in vanilla and transfer pudding to large bowl. Place plastic wrap directly on surface of pudding and refrigerate until cold, at least 4 hours or up to 1 day.

2. For the cake layers: Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 325 degrees. Butter and flour two 8-inch cake pans. SIFT flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in bowl. Do not skip this step.

3. Melt butter in large saucepan over medium heat. Stir in cocoa and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute. Off heat, whisk in coffee, buttermilk, and sugars until dissolved. Whisk in eggs and vanilla, then slowly whisk in flour mixture.

4. Divide batter evenly between prepared pans and bake until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean, 30 to 35 minutes. Cool layers in pans 15 minutes, then invert onto wire rack. Cool to room temperature, at least 1 hour.

5. To assemble the cake: Cut each cake in half horizontally. Crumble one cake layer into medium crumbs and set aside. Place one cake layer on serving platter or cardboard round. Spread 1 cup pudding over cake layer and top with another layer. Repeat with 1 cup pudding and last cake layer. Spread remaining pudding evenly over top and sides of cake. Sprinkle cake crumbs evenly over top and sides of cake, pressing lightly to adhere crumbs. Serve. (Cake can be refrigerated for up to 2 days.)


Meatball Sub wtih Melted Provolone

Remember those 629 meatballs we made a few weeks ago? Well, I saved about 5 dozens in the freezer to use on sandwiches today for lunch. Hot meatballs with melted provolone, mozzarella, oozing with marinara sauce, yum!

To prevent bun from getting soggy during warming in oven, put two slices of provolone cheese on sliced bun before putting meatballs and marinara sauce.

Meatballs and marinara sauce, heated (see previous post)
Scali Rolls or crusty Hoagie bun
Sliced Provolone Cheese
Shredded Mozzarella Cheese
Remoulade Sauce (see previous post under sauce/condiment)

Preheat oven 425 degrees F.

Cut rolls in half, leaving one edge intact. Layer two slices of provolone cheese. Put 3-4 meatballs on cheese slices, drizzle with marinara sauce and remoulade sauce. Sprinkle Mozzarella cheese.

Heat in oven until cheese completely melts. Serve immediately.


Wrap it up!

Wraps are so fun and healthy alternative to breads.
Fried Chicken in Tomato-Basil wrap.

Blackened Salmon in Spinach Wrap.


Spanakopita Triangles

These savory appetizers have converted many into spinach lovers. One friend told me, "I will eat anything but spinach!" but changed his mind after tasting one and then had five more! A little time consuming to make but these can be frozen up to 2 months in a freezer.

Here are two versions of the recipe.

Saute shallots and garlic in butter. Then add white wine. Reduce the liquid, then add flour and cook for 1-2 minutes.

Add heavy cream.

Put a heaping teaspoon of mixture on the bottom right corner of buttered phyllo strip. Do not overfill or the sides will break open during baking. Fold into a triangle shape, slightly tucking in the open edges.

Tuck in the remaining edge and "glue" it with melted butter, making a smooth, tight triangle.

Butter the tops before layering a another piece of wax paper. You do not want any phyllo dough exposed to air or it will dry out in pieces.

For even browning, turn the baking sheet once after 6-7 minutes of baking.

Print This Recipe!

Spinach Triangles
(Version 1 using cream sauce)
Makes 5 dozen

1/4 C. Shallots, finely chopped
2 Tbsp. Garlic, minced
4 Tbsp. Butter
3 Tbsp. Flour
½ C. White wine
½ C. Heavy whipping Cream
2pkgs Frozen Spinach, thawed, squeeze excess water
8 oz. Feta Cheese
3 Eggs
Salt & Pepper to taste

3 pkgs. Phyllo (There are 2 pkgs. in a box)
1 lb. Butter

Version 2 (using Philadelphia Cream Cheese)
Thaw Phyllo to room temp.

Melt four tablespoon of butter in a large skillet and sauté garlic and shallot for about 3-4 minutes. Add white wine and cook until reduced in half. Add flour and cook for 1-2 minutes, then add heavy whipping cream. Cool.

In a bowl, add spinach and shallot mixture. Combine 3 beaten eggs and feta cheese. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Melt 8 oz of butter at a time. Roll out Phyllo sheets and cut lengthwise.

Take first phyllo dough and brush with melted butter until no white part of pastry shows, repeat with second phyllo sheet. Spoon one heaping teaspoon of spinach mixture onto a bottom right corner of buttered sheets. Fold bottom corner up to top. Keep folding to make a triangular shape. Seal the edges, dabbing some melted butter if necessary.

Stack spinach triangles on Saran wrap in a freezable container. Brush tops with melted butter before layering the second sheet of Saran wrap. Freeze until needed.

Do not thaw spinach triangles before baking.

Preheat oven for 400°F. Bake on baking sheet for 12-15 minutes until golden brown. Serve immediately. These can be kept warm in a warmer for about an hour. Do not cover.

Spinach Triangles
Version 2, Using Philadelphia Cream Cheese

1 tbsp. of Unsalted butter
3 Shallots, finely minced
2 Cloves garlic, finely minced or grated
1/4 cup(s) of White wine
2 Pkgs. frozen, chopped spinach (10 oz each), thawed, squeezed
4 ounce(s) of Crumbled feta cheese
4 ounce(s) of Softened Philadelphia Cream Cheese
1 Egg
1/2 tsp. of Salt
1/2 tsp. of Pepper
1 pound(s) of Phyllo dough (about 36 sheets), thawed

2 Sticks of unsalted butter, melt one stick at a time

Pre-heat medium-size frying pan on medium-high heat. Melt one tablespoon of butter and sauté shallot for about 2-3 minutes. Add garlic and sauté for another minute. Add white wine and cook until reduced in half. Cool off the heat, for 5 minutes.

In a medium bowl, add spinach, feta cheese, softened cream cheese, shallot mixture, one egg, salt and pepper and mix well until combined.

Melt one stick of butter at a time. Roll out thawed phyllo sheets and cut lengthwise.

Using a pastry brush, take first phyllo sheet and brush with melted butter until no white part of pastry shows, repeat with second phyllo sheet.

Spoon one heaping teaspoon of spinach mixture on the bottom right corner of buttered, doubled phyllo sheet. Fold bottom corner up to top into a triangular shape. Keep folding like folding a flag. Seal the edges, dabbing some melted butter if necessary. Repeat with remaining phyllo sheets and spinach mixture. Makes about 30 triangles.

Layer spinach triangles in a freezable container; 9x9 square baking pan will fit 8 triangles per layer. Brush tops with melted butter before covering with a sheet of plastic wrap. Can be double-stacked. Cover well with plastic wrap then with foil and freeze until needed.

Do not thaw spinach triangles before baking. Preheat oven for 400°F. Bake on foiled-lined baking sheet for 10-12 minutes until light, golden brown (2-3 minutes longer if frozen). Serve immediately. These can be kept warm in a warmer for about an hour. Can be reheated in oven the next day.


Salsa Verde Salad

A blend of fresh lime juice and cilantro with nutty avocado is simply wonderful. This Tex-Mex style of chopped salad is refreshing accompaniment with any meal.

Vegetables are prepped and ready to toss. Addition of lime juice in dressing wilts greens quickly so you need to toss the greens 15-20 minutes prior to serving.

These Tomatillos, also called Mexican Green Tomatoes, gives a good acidic flavor. Look for fresh husks and firm fruit inside. Only the green fruit should be eaten since other parts of plants are toxic.

Cleaned and quartered.

Colorful medley of veggies brightens your plate.


3 tomatillos, husked, quartered
1/3 cup (lightly packed) cilantro
5 tablespoons fresh lime juice
1 teaspoon chopped jalapeño chili
1 garlic clove, peeled
6 tablespoons vegetable oil
Salt and Pepper to taste

Puree well in a blender. Season with salt and fresh ground pepper to taste. Refrigerate until ready to use. Will keep up to three days.

2 1/2 cups chopped romaine lettuce
2 cups chopped green cabbage
3/4 cup chopped seeded tomatoes, drain in colander
3/4 cup chopped purple cabbage
3/4 cup fresh or frozen corn kernels
1 avocado, pitted, peeled, diced
1/4 cup feta cheese, crumbled
1 cup fresh cilantro
1/2 cup finely chopped green onions

All veggies can be prepped a day ahead. 15-20 minutes before serving, stir dressing well and gently toss until well blended. Serve.

Note: To keep your chopped avocado from turning brown, quickly dip them in fresh lime juice and drain. Will keep for a day or more without turning brown.