Stone Mountain Fried Chicken

I was born in Brooklyn, New York (this makes me a “Yankee”) but spent my formidable years in the south (Georgia and coastal Carolina).

During my southern tenure – I picked up a few souvenirs – specifically: a lingering accent and the ability to say “y’all” like a native; a love for Friday night football and (don’t judge me) country music; and most importantly – a sacred appreciation for fried chicken.

Oh chicken.  Why would anyone want you any other way than fried?  There is nothing more mouth watering than slightly spicy, skillet fried, crispy chicken.  One of the best presents I ever received was a skillet and a jar of overpriced pork fat from Moveable Feast to fry chicken in.  ::Sigh::


The best fried chicken I ever had was at Stone Mountain Park in Georgia.  It was served out of the back of a woman’s pickup truck.  She shook it up in a brown paper bag filled with flour and spices, dipped it in buttermilk, and fried it up right there.  Amazing.

I’ve experimented with a number of recipes over the years in my quest to replicate the Stone Mountain fried chicken.  The one below is a hodgepodge of a few different recipes (taking the best component of each) that – together – most closely resemble that Holy Grail of fried chicken deliciousness I bit into over 25 years ago during a school field trip to Stone Mountain.

For you first timers – be patient with yourself as you learn to fry chicken.  It really is an art form and it takes time to develop your skill.  Plus, unlike other recipes, frying chicken requires a lot of attention.  You must tend to the chicken and methodically flip it so it cooks evenly and doesn’t burn.  The more you do it – the better you’ll get at it.

Cooking Tip:  If you want to fry chicken, you need to get yourself a skillet.  Being “country” is super trendy these days so you can purchase skillets at a wide variety of fine retailers.  The best part? A good skillet doesn’t need to set you back a million dollars.  The Lodge Large Cast Iron Skillet (13.25) is available at Crate & Barrel, does a great job and won’t break the bank at only $59.95.  You are also going to want to invest in a good pair of tongs and a baking tray.


My family believes in supporting local businesses.  If you live in the Chicagoland area – you can purchase everything you need to make Stone Mountain Fried Chicken at the retailers below.  If you are visiting this site from a different part of the globe – I encourage you to seek out your own local providers.  Supporting small businesses helps the local economy and preserves the cultural fabric of American life.


  • 8 Pieces of Chicken with Skin Intact
  • 2 Cups All Purpose Flour (My Favorite is King Arthur Flour brand)
  • 2 1/2 Tablespoons Kosher Salt + 1/2 Tablespoon for Flour Mixture
  • 2 Tablespoons Fresh Ground Pepper
  • 1 Teaspoon of Cayenne
  • 1 Teaspoon of Smoked Paprika
  • 2 Cups of Fresh Buttermilk
  • 2 Farm Fresh Eggs
  • Pork Fat for Frying
  • Sturdy Freezer Bags
  • Paper Towels
  • Aluminum Foil


Remove raw chicken from packaging and pat dry with paper towels.  Put all of the spices together in a freezer bag and shake until mixed.  Put the chicken into the freezer bag and shake until all of the pieces are evenly covered with the spices.  Place in refrigerator for a minimum of three hours or (even better) overnight.

Remove chicken from refrigerator and let rest until chicken is room temperature.  Mix flour and remaining 1/2 tablespoon kosher salt in a bowl.  In a separate bowl, mix buttermilk and eggs together to form a “buttermilk bath.”

Take a piece of chicken and dunk it in the buttermilk bath.  Shaking off the excess liquid, roll the chicken in the flour mixture.  Shake off all residual flour until your chicken looks lightly dusted (flour coating should be thin – not thick).  Work in pieces until all of the chicken is bathed, floured and ready to go.

img_4258.jpgPre-heat oven to 350 degrees.  Fire up your skillet over medium heat.  Put a generous amount of pork fat into the skillet.   There should be enough fat in the pan so that the chicken has a nice bubbling pool of melted fat to cook in.  Here is where the “art form” comes in.  Let the fat melt until it is shiny and piping hot – but not smoking.  When the chicken hits the pan – it should make a crackling – not a hissing sound.  You don’t want your pan too hot – but not too cool either. The more chicken you fry – the better you will get at spotting when your fat is ready for the chicken.

Some folks will try to get you to use a temperature gauge in the skillet to measure the heat of your oil.  Don’t do it!  Frying chicken is about simple pleasure and loving attention to a gorgeous piece of fried bird.  Don’t mess it up with fancy gadgets.  (A real southerner would insert a comment here about “Damn Yankees” and “Fancy knick-knacks ruining a good thing.”)


Once the fat is shiny and bubbling – place a few pieces of chicken into the grease.  Make sure the pieces have plenty of room from each other.  Never overcrowd the skillet.  Attentively watch your chicken and rotate.  And rotate.  And rotate.  And rotate until the skin is crackling and a crunchy golden crust forms all over the skin of the bird.  Once the skin is “finger lickin’ good” looking – remove the chicken from the skillet and place onto paper towels to absorb the excess grease.  Continue working in this manner until all pieces are done.

After all of the chicken has its excess fat absorbed – places all 8 pieces on a baking tray lined with tin foil.  Bake for 15 minutes.  Let rest for another 15 – and then hollar for your kin: “Chicken’s on the table y’all!” and watch ’em come a runnin’.

 Side Kick Recipe: Butter Drop Biscuit

  • 2 Cups Flour
  • 1 Tablespoon Kosher Salt
  • 2 Teaspoons Baking Powder
  • 1 3/4 Cups Heavy Cream
  • Irish Butter – Softened
  • Farm Fresh Honey

Pre-heat oven to 350 Degrees.  Mix flour, salt and baking powder in a bowl.  Mix in heavy cream until mixture is thick – but too thick – and doughy.  Add more cream as necessary.  Using a large spoon – scoop even amounts of the biscuit dough onto a baking tray lined with chef’s parchment paper.  Bake until golden brown (about 15 minutes).  Remove from oven and serve piping hot with softened butter and drizzle with honey.


I love hearing from “y’all.”  If you have questions about how to execute the perfect fried chicken – or want additional tips and tricks – use the contact form to message me below.  I promise to get back to you lickity split.

Shorty’s Short Ribs

When the temps in Chicagoland are sub-zero, it is time to snuggle up inside with a glass of red wine and a hearty meal.  I love making short ribs in the winter.  First, short ribs are easy to prepare.  Second, once all of the ingredients are in the “pot” – there is very little work on your part.  All you have to do is stick the meat in the oven and bake for a few hours.

ben_hur_1959_poster.jpgMy recommendation?  Once you put this recipe in the oven – grab a delicious glass of full bodied red wine (Barolo is always a good idea), put in a classic film like ‘Ben-Hur’ – and cuddle under a blanket while a fire crackles.  Let the aroma of the short ribs fill your home.  By the time the movie is done – you will be ready to dig into a hearty bowl of mouthwatering meat and broth soaked vegetables.

So yum.

Cooking Tip: You will need a stove-top to oven friendly pot to execute this recipe properly.  Jeff and I are firm believers in Le Creuset Dutch Ovens.  We own several of them in a variety of colors.  Buying a Le Creuset is an investment you will not regret.    There are less expensive models – but if you are looking for cookware that will deliver time and time again – and last a lifetime – buy the fancy French stuff.  They are for sale at Williams & Sonoma and Crate & Barrel.

Shopping List

  • 6 Bright Red Bone-In Short Ribs
  • 6 Whole Carrots
  • 6 Small Golden Potatoes
  • 4 oz of Shiitake and Oyster Mushrooms
  • 1 Small Yellow Onion
  • 4 Cloves of Garlic
  • 2 Sprigs of Fresh Rosemary
  • 4 Tablespoons of Kosher Salt
  • 2 Tablespoons of Fresh Ground Pepper
  • 2 Tablespoons of Tomato Paste
  • 1 14 oz Can of Fire Roasted Tomatoes
  • 1 Bottle of Good Italian Wine
  • Olive Oil
  • Fresh Loaf of Crusty Bed
  • Fresh Grated Parmesan Cheese

Keep it Local

My family believes in supporting local businesses.  If you live in the Chicagoland area – you can purchase everything you need at the retailers below.  If you are visiting this site from a different part of the globe – I encourage you to seek out your own local providers.  Supporting small businesses helps the local economy and preserves the cultural fabric of American life.


Take meat and pat dry with paper towels.  Lay meat out on a clean work space.  Take 2 tablespoons of salt and massage it into the meat with your hands.  Pretend you are giving the short rib a sugar scrub in the shower.  Once the meat is covered with salt, use a mortar and pestle to grind the black peppercorns.  After grinding the peppercorns into a fine powder, measure out 1 tablespoon.  Repeat meat massage.

Let meat rest until room temperature – about an hour.  Pre-heat oven to 275 degrees.

While the meat is resting – prep the vegetables.  Skin the carrots and dice evenly.  Rinse the potatoes.  Leave the skin on the potatoes and dice evenly.  Rinse the mushrooms and dice into nice hearty chunks.  Remove skins from the onion and garlic.  Dice the onion.  Crush the garlic.

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Sidekick Recipe: Crush ice. Crush Fresh Blackberries. Cover with Lambrusco.  Garnish with Fresh Rosemary.  So yum!

For the rosemary, grab each sprig firmly at the top with the leaves pointing up (not down).  Take your pointer finger and thumb and pull all of the leaves down off the stalk.  The leaves should come off easily.   Discard stalk.  Chop rosemary until it is very fine.

Cooking Tip: After prepping vegetables, I like to put each kind on a separate paper plate.  Then, as I am working at the stovetop – all I have to do is grab the plate with the next ingredient and throw it into the pot.  Plus, then I can have the kids find the next ingredient and carry it over.  It helps them to be a part of the food journey and they love to help.  Then, I reuse the plates or recycle them.

Once the meat has rested – put the dutch oven on the stove top and adjust the temperature to medium heat.  Pour a healthy dose of olive oil in the pot.  Wait until the olive oil is crackling before you add the meat.  Do not overcrowd the pot.  You will have to work in batches.

Cooking Tip: There are two major mistakes new cooks make (me included): (1) letting food hit a cold pan before it has heated up and (2) over crowding the pot.  Just trust me on this.  The quality and texture of the food will not be as good if you rush or overcrowd.

When the meat hits the pot – there should be an instant crackling sound.  Working with a pair of tongs – rotate the meat until all sides of the short rib have a beautiful caramel color.  You want a nice crust – but not a char – on the meat.  Char can result in the entire dish tasting burnt at the end.  Place the meat onto a plate or platter lined with paper towel.  Let the meat rest (more resting).

After you remove the meat, there will be meat juice and olive oil in the pan.  Leave it!  That is meat milk!  So delicious!  Keep the pot hot on the stove top and add the onion.  Sauté the onion until it is translucent.  Add the garlic.  Everything should be smelling very delicious by now.  Add the carrots and potato.  Continue to sauté until vegetables  soften.  Add mushrooms.  Add rosemary. Sniff the yumminess.  Salt and pepper to taste.

Add the tomato paste.  Gradually fold it into the vegetables until it is evenly disbursed throughout the mixture.  Sometimes tomato paste can have a weird aftertaste if you do not distribute it evenly throughout and allow it to warm up.  Add salt and pepper to taste.

Take the short ribs and nestle them into the vegetables.  If you haven’t already, crack open a bottle of good red robust Italian wine (I’d invest in something in the $15 to $20 price range).  Pour yourself a glass.  Breathe in the peppery aroma and sip.  Pour remaining wine into the pot until the short ribs are covered (but still slightly exposed – the meat should’t be buried in wine).  Add the remaining 2 tablespoons of salt and 1 tablespoon of pepper.  Salt and pepper to taste.

2018-01-01 19.10.03Bring to a slight boil (bubbly – not raging).  Simmer until the strong smell of alcohol dissipates (approximately 10 to 15 minutes). Add the can of tomatoes.  Add salt and pepper to taste. Cover and remove from heat.

Put the pot into the oven.  The meat will need to cook for at least three hours.  Enjoy that movie we talked about.  You and your sweetie may even need to crack a second bottle of wine.

After a few hours, the smell coming from your kitchen should be intoxicating.  When you hit the three hour mark – pull the pot from the oven and taste a piece of the meat and broth.  The flavors should be bold, a little salty and the meat should melt in your mouth like butter.  If this is not the case, salt and pepper to taste, and re-cover and put the pot back into the oven for another 30 minutes to an hour.

When the flavors are to your liking, plate the short rib and vegetables.  Take a high-quality olive oil and pour into a dipping dish.  Add fresh Parmesan cheese on top of the olive oil.  Slice the bread.  Proceed to gobble up heaping spoonfuls of meaty hearty yummy deliciousness and bread laden with meat sauce, olive oil and cheese.

Like I said at the beginning – so yum!


Have Questions about this Recipe?


Anna’s Stuffed Shells: Just what the Doctor Ordered.

<> on January 7, 2015 in Chicago, Illinois.

Chicago.  It’s friggin’ cold here.

I live in the suburbs of Chicago.  Which means that six months out of the year it is friggin’ freezing.  I mean cold.  If you are not from Chicago – take whatever you think is cold and multiply it by 100.  That’s how cold it is here.

People from Alaska and other “upper regions” do not need to comment.  You are a special breed of superhuman to live in weather like this full time.

Cold weather calls for comfort food.  One of my family’s favorite “comfort foods” is a tray of stuffed shells.  They are cheesy; just a little spicy; and flavorful.  The best part?  You don’t even need to serve them on a plate.  Just leave that steamy tray of cheesy deliciousness on the kitchen island with a bunch of plastic forks and let your loved ones go nuts.

A dear friend – who also happens to be a doctor – is always asking me for my stuffed shell recipe.  Needing new content for the blog – and wanting to have the recipe available to the good doctor when the whim for mozzarella ricotta laden pasta strikes her – here is the recipe for “Anna’s Stuffed Shells.”

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Yummy. Cheesy.  Saucy. Deliciousness.

Shopping List

  • 16 oz of Italian Sausage
  • 8 oz of Shredded Mozzarella Cheese
  • 32 oz of Whole Milk Ricotta Cheese (Don’t you dare buy low fat.  Gross.)
  • 12 oz of Jumbo Conchiglie Pasta Shells
  • 24 oz Jar of Rao’s Homemade Pasta Sauce Marinara (Always buy Rao’s if you are buying jarred pasta sauce.  Jeff is horrified that I am even promoting sauce that is not homemade – being Italian and all.  However, I am Irish and am very comfortable with Rao’s.  Nothing is as good as homemade – but Rao’s comes pretty close.)
  • 1 Large Egg
  • 2 cups Parmesan and Romano Cheese
  • 1/2 cup Flat Italian Parsley
  • 1 Small Yellow Onion
  • 4 Cloves of Garlic
  • Olive Oil
  • Salt and Pepper to taste


File Dec 27, 8 37 20 PMPre-heat oven to 375 degrees.  Fill a large pot with water.  Add plenty of salt and a dash of olive oil.  Bring the water, salt, olive oil mixture to a rolling boil.  Put the Jumbo Conchiglie Pasta Shells into the boiling water.  Boil until al dente. Strain the pasta – drench in olive oil.

Cooking Tip: Instead of dumping the pasta water out – consider keeping it and cooking with it later.  Pasta water is delicious – salty and golden.  It can be a great base to a lot of meals that call for water.  Just freeze it until you have a recipe that calls for a water base – then experiment and enjoy!

While the pasta is cooking, take a large pan and add a splash of olive oil over medium high heat.  Wait till the pan is searing hot and olive oil is crackling.  Dice the onion and mince the garlic.  Add to pan.  Allow the onion and garlic to become golden and fragrant. Add sausage.  Do not be tempted to sauté the meat too soon.  Allow each side to form a lovely crust.  Crust does not mean “burnt.”  Crust means the meat develops a caramelized dark brown color.  Add salt and pepper to taste. Chop and add the parsley. Strain the meat so all of the extra oil and fat drip out.  Feel free to press the meat with paper towel to remove any extra grease (you want a little grease – but not a ton).

Cooking Tip: Always taste your food at every stage (this does not mean eat raw meat).  “Salt and pepper” to taste means tasting your food for flavor and then adding seasoning accordingly.  In our house, we like big bold flavors.  We never skimp on the salt or the pepper!

Pour cooked meat into a large bowl and grab a sturdy wooden spoon.  Add ricotta, parmesan and Romano cheeses.  Add salt and pepper to taste.  Mix and taste.  If you have made it correctly – you will have a difficult time not tasting.  In fact you may eat most of the pasta filling before it hits the shells.  Feel free to grab a shell and dip it into the pasta filling.  Amazing.  Add the egg (which is a binder for the shell filling) and mix in  until completely blended.

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No time for homemade sauce? Get Rao’s.

Take the Rao’s Marinara Sauce and pour into oven safe cooking tray.  Take a pasta shell and regular soup spoon and scoop the filling into the shell.  Nestle the stuffed shell into the pasta sauce.  Repeat until the tray is full and snug with shells.  Take the mozzarella cheese and spread over the top of the shells.  Put into oven and bake until top of cheese is golden brown – approximately 30 minutes.

Once shells are golden brown – pull from oven and set to cool.  Or, you can be like my family and descend upon them like ravenous beasts and eat right from the tray – cheese oozing – sauce bubbling – and people saying in between bites “This is so good!”

Need Help with this Recipe?  Contact Me.

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Anna’s Stuffed Shells: Just what the Doctor Ordered.

Chocolate Chunk Christmas Cookies

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Why “Chip” when you can “Chunk?”

Ever since college – I have enjoyed baking chocolate chunk cookies.

I do not have the patience to bake beautiful delicate cookies.  In fact, like my pathetic attempts at yoga, I am terrible.  I get bored, irritated at myself, and want to quit before “namaste.”  I tried to make raspberry linzer cookies one Christmas and it was a disaster.  After spending hours in the kitchen – I stood covered in jam and flour with only three decent linzer tarts to show for my efforts.  Pathetic.  Jeff wisely steered clear of the kitchen.

I identify with chocolate chip cookies.  They are easy to make – you can’t really mess them up – and even if you do – 9 times out of 10 – the messed up cookies can be scraped off the pan and made into an impromptu vanilla ice cream cookie crumble.

The recipe has evolved over the years and is now quite sophisticated: I include seasonal colored M&M’s with the chocolate chunks.  But in all sincerity, I have been making this recipe for so long that the cookies are always big, slightly chewy in the center, and never last longer than a few days.

Cookies are great giveaway items for the Christmas season.  A lot of people don’t have the time to bake homemade cookies.  Dropping off a nicely wrapped package of freshly baked cookies to a neighbor, friend, childcare provider or work colleague is truly a gift from the heart that will bring a smile to the face of the recipient.

File Dec 17, 8 23 39 PMShopping List

  • 1 1/2 Cup Organic Cane Sugar
  • 1 1/2 Cup Organic Light Brown Sugar
  • 2 Extra Large Free Range/Sustainable Eggs
  • 2 Sticks of Organic Salted Butter
  • 1 Dash of Vanilla Extract
  • 1 Teaspoon Baking Powder
  • 1 Teaspoon Kosher Salt
  • 5 Cups Flour (plus more or less as needed)
  • 1 Cup Crushed Pecans
  • 1 Cup of Raisins
  • 1 12 oz Bag of Chocolate Chunks (I prefer Chunks – but chips work great too)
  • 1 1/2 Cup of Seasonal M&M’s (Red & Green for this Recipe)
  • Large Bowl
  • Sturdy Wooden Spoon
  • Cookie Baking Tray
  • Parchment Paper
  • Freezer Bags
  • Twine
  •  Fresh Sprigs of Rosemary


Pre-heat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. Gather the ingredients.  Take the butter and eggs out until they are room temperature.  The butter should be soft and squishy in its wrapper.  Put butter and eggs into bowl.  Use spoon to mix until ingredients are combined.

Add sugars, salt and baking powder.  Use spoon and mix until ingredients are combined. Add pecans, raisins, chocolate chunks, and seasonal M&M’s.  Mix together in bowl with wooden spoon.  Add dash of vanilla extract.  Take a sniff.

Gradually mix in flour.  Your arms should be getting a workout.  The more flour you add, the tougher it will be to stir the dough.  I say, don’t be afraid to get your hands dirty.  If it becomes too hard to knead the dough with the spoon – get your hands in there and mix those ingredients.  Cookie dough under the finger nails never killed anyone.

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Golden Chocolatey Chunky Deliciousness

Once the dough is nice and sturdy – bake a “test” cookie.  Have you ever made a batch of cookies and they just melted and fell apart on you in the oven?  Disaster!  Reach into the bowl and pull out a nice meatball sized handful of cookie dough.  Flatten it with your palms into a hamburger patty shape.  Put it on a piece of aluminum foil and place it in the oven to bake.  If the flour consistency is good – the cookie will keep its shape.  If you are weak on flour – it will start looking more akin to a pancake than a cookie.  This is your clue to knead more flour into the dough.

Eat the test cookie.

Once the dough is complete, follow the “test cookie” method (meatball – hamburger patty).  Place completed patties on the cookie tray.  Make sure to line the cookie tray with parchment paper!  Pam and other cooking sprays leave an aftertaste. Using parchment paper keeps pans nice and clean looking for years.  Jeff always says, “If you invest in good cookware – you should take care of it.”

Bake cookies for 8 to 10 minutes.  They will be golden brown on top (beware dark edges – this is a warning sign that your cookie bottoms are getting black).  Pull the cookies when done and let cool.  Eat another cookie.

Packaging for Christmas Delivery

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Once the cookies are cool (not warm – cool) – they can be packaged up for delivery to loved ones.

Step One: Take four cookies and place them in a freezer bag.  Roll the bag until all of  the air is out.  Seal.

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Step One

Step Two: Take a piece of parchment paper.  Place the freezer bag of cookies on top.  Wrap the cookies in the parchment paper like a Christmas present.

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Step Two

Step Three: Wrap the package with twine and tie a bow.  I like to add a bit of decorative straw. To make the package look super festive and seasonal, take a sprig of fresh rosemary and tuck it under the twine/straw bow.

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Step Three

Step Four:  I like to insert an invitation to our church’s Christmas celebration (maybe the recipient does not have a church home and would enjoy celebrating the season with you at your place of worship).  You can also include your family’s holiday greeting card as an alternative.

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Step Four

Step Five: Deliver!

Got Questions or Comments about this Recipe?




Emeril’s Homemade Stock Recipe: A Must for any Serious Home Cook.

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Jeff and his Homemade Stock

My husband (Jeffers) is a ferocious cook.  He was raised in a house where gourmet cooking was introduced at infancy.  My mother-in-law is the Yoda of home chefs.  My two sister-in-laws are also extremely talented.  As a person who “married into” the Battista clan of culinary geniuses – I count my blessings at every family get together.  I know I will eat well and gain at least ten pounds (but when you eat food like this – who cares?).


Jeff is an executive in the construction industry.  His days are long and stressful.  At the end of a busy work week – he likes to come home and decompress by cooking beautiful meals for our little family.  Some men watch football.  My man makes polenta.


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Jeff and Benny reading Emeril

We love New Orleans.  The flavor profile of the Crescent City is always present in our home.  2012 – 2016 marked the “Emeril” years where Jeff cooked through every Emeril Lagasse recipe he could get his hands on.  Jeff is part Portuguese (as is Emeril) and Jeff’s family comes from Massachusetts (so does “Papa Emeril” as he is referred to in our home).  If Jeff had his way, he would frame a picture of Emeril and hang it right next to a photo of Ronald Reagan (don’t get me started).


While Emeril has mass-produced products he sells in mainstream grocery stores – if you read his cookbooks you will learn that the chef is a huge proponent of homemade stock.  Stock is used to cook almost anything delicious: soups, short ribs, polenta, risotto etc.  We, like many Americans, used to buy Emeril’s “store” stock – but on one particularly lazy Saturday – Jeff became ambitious and decided to follow Emeril’s recipe to make his own homemade chicken stock.

Our kitchen has never been the same since.

Unknown-1Homemade stock changes everything.  It makes anything prepared with it taste magical.  Flavors are bolder, more delicious and layered with all kinds of yummy things that you have to experience to believe.  After tasting homemade stock – it became the standard in our home.  We couldn’t go back to “store bought” stock.  It just doesn’t taste the same.

Emeril’s recipe for homemade stock – has ruined us.

Over the years, Jeff has mastered the process for making chicken, beef, lamb, veal, shrimp and even lobster stock.  He executes stock with such laser efficiency that he doesn’t even need to use a recipe.

I asked him about whether he has “created” his own stock recipe and he humbly said “no.”  He did offer that he now adds his own “flavor” to the original Emeril recipe and has made it “his own.”  But the heart and soul of the stock – is still Emeril.

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Benny with the Emeril Cookbooks

I located Emeril’s Chicken Stock recipe via his website.  Click here to get a copy for yourself.  If you like to cook at all – please chuck the cardboard boxes of stock taking up space in your pantry and take a stab at making it yourself.  I promise it will take your cooking to the next level.

As the holidays are fast approaching, you can even can the stock and give it as a gift along with a recipe card and all of the ingredients needed to make something yummy.  How cute would that be?  Super cute!  I might have to steal my own idea and try it myself.  BAM!



Family Meal Planning – A Must for Busy Moms.

DSC_2726fWhen you have a busy family of five (with two working parents) – family meal planning for the week is a necessity.  After I went back to work full time, Jeff and I found navigating meal time to be a total nightmare.  With three crazy kids running around – we don’t have time to think about what we are going to make.  We just need to get it cooked and on the table before the little people revolt!

I created this helpful template that I fill out every Saturday night and put on our fridge.Unknown-1   We rely heavily upon pre-prepared options from “Trader Joe’s” and our favorite meat market, “Ream’s” in Elburn, Illinois.  We like to hit up the local farmer’s market for fresh produce (“French Market” in Geneva, Illinois).  These are not gourmet meals.  These are meals that can be thrown in the oven and ready to go in under 30 minutes.

Here is what we are eating for the week of November 5th:

Day Breakfast Lunch Dinner
Sunday English Muffin, Bacon, Yogurt Smoothie Free Choice Left Overs
Monday Ham Egg & Cheddar Sandwich, Cantalope, OJ Packed Dixie Chicks with Butternut Squash Zig Zags, Fresh Arugala and Goat Cheese
Tuesday Quiche Lorraine, Hashbrown, Yogurt Smoothie Packed Organic Ground Beef Patties with Cheese on English Muffin with Broccoli & Cauliflour
Wednesday Starbucks (I drop the baby off early and take the girls to breakfast at our favorite place – “Starbs.”) Hot Lunch Wild Rice Stuffed Chicken Breasts with Green Beans sauted in Bacon
Thursday Chocolate Croissants, Cantalope, OJ Packed Popeye Beef Flanks stuffed with Spinach served with Sweet Potatoes
Friday Banana Pancake Puffs, Chicken Sausage, Yogurt Smoothie Packed Carne Asada Tacos with Fresh Pico de Gallo and Guacamole
Saturday Dad’s Choice Free Choice Dad’s Choice

Everything on the dinner menu this week comes from “Ream’s” and French Market.  Breakfast and lunch are from “Trader Joe’s.”

imagesOn Sunday, I create an assembly line for lunch prep so that everyone’s lunch (kids, husband, me) is pre-packed and ready to go in the a.m.  Note:  I hate making lunch in the morning (Too tired!  Too crazy!) and hate making lunch at night (Too tired!  Just want to drink wine!).  It only takes me about an hour to make everyone’s lunches on Sunday.  I pop my head phones in – jam out to the “Counting Crows” playlist on iHeart Radio – and slap some food together.  Lunches are organized into freezer bags labeled “Monday” through “Friday” and each person has their own “bin” in the fridge for the pre-packed lunches.  In the morning, I grab a lunch out of the person’s respective bin – throw it into their lunch bag – and send them out the door with a kissy.

UnknownWednesday is my “cheat” day.  I drop the baby off early at daycare and take the girls out for breakfast at Starbucks.  It is our time to be together and have “big kid” time.  The phone is turned off and I focus 100% of my attention on them.  I also let the girls get “hot lunch” at school – which is a treat for them and one less meal for me to make.

This works for us.  Got a different method you want to share?  Connect with me and let me know about it.  Or feel free to leave a comment below.  Want a copy of my meal planning template?  Just fill out the contact form below and I’ll send it right over.

Please send me the Meal Planning Template! 


Last Minute Mom: Vampire Sun Butter Marshmallow Apple Teeth

UnknownFor all of you busy moms out there – you know what I’m talking about.  It’s the night before Halloween.  It’s late.  You’re exhausted.  You’ve been up since 4:45 a.m. being a domestic goddess, perfect wife, mother and excellent employee.  All you want is to kick back with a coffee cup of wine and watch some bad tv.  And then it hits you…You forgot to make the freaking special snack for your kids’ Halloween party tomorrow at school. Suddenly, you feel more afraid than Drew Barrymore did in the opening scene of “Scream.”  But don’t worry – I’ve got you covered.  You are going to make Vampire Sun Butter Marshmallow Apple Teeth.  It will take less than an hour and you will look like a hot momma rock star when you roll into the PTO party with these bad boys.


Vampire Cat.If you’ve already guzzled that mug of wine, send your significant other to the store or call an Uber and hustle yourself to any Target, Meijer or Wal-Mart.  Head straight for the “Halloween” aisle (all stores have one) and then go to grocery for the following items.  Note: You could even pull this off on your lunch break with some support from well-intended colleagues who have “been there.”


Last Minute Mom Shopping List:

  • Seasonally appropriate paper napkins (Cocktail size – if there are no seasonal napkins left – just buy white ones.)
  • Seasonally appropriate ribbon (Black, orange, even white – who cares.)
  • Plastic knives
  • Plastic vampire teeth
  • Seasonal halloween treat bags or humble standard sandwich ziplock baggies will do (Slap a halloween sticker on the plain ziplock bag if you are feeling particularly motivated.)
  • Ziplock snack bags
  • Pre-packaged individual containers of Sun Butter (Beware the dreaded peanut allergy – don’t be that insensitive heel who brings a nut product to school and ostracizes a kid in front of his entire class.)
  • Pre-cut apple slices (Buy the pre-cut slices – you don’t have time to slice fruit! Store all out of pre-cut apple slices? Drive through your nearest Mickey-D’s and order as many as you need – they cost practically nothing, come in individual pre-packaged bags, and will save you so much precious time that could be better spent sleeping or watching reality tv. All praise the Golden Arches.)
  • The little mini marshmallows

The next part is easy.  Assembly.  Resume your coffee cup wine drinking. 

Open the marshmallows.  Eat a couple.  Then put a few into as many individual snack File Oct 30, 9 04 05 PMbags as you need (one snack pack per child).  Put one knife, one napkin, one pre-packaged Sun Butter, one pack of pre-cut apples slices, and one pack of mini-marshmallows into the treat bag or sandwich sized ziplock bag.  Tie with ribbon and a pair of the plastic vampire teeth.

Voila!  You just created a simple snack/craft kit that can be easily executed by the eager students at their annual Halloween party.  Plus you even gave them something (kind of) healthy before they gorge themselves with candy.  Stroll into the class party with your snack packs (“Oh, just something I whipped up.”) as you toss your hair over your shoulder while you hand the teacher a pumpkin-spiced latte with your perfectly manicured hands.

File Oct 30, 9 04 35 PMExecuting the craft/snack in class is simple.  Hand each child a snack/craft kit.  Tell them to open it.  Instruct them to open the Sun Butter packet.  Use the plastic knife to spread the Sun Butter on the side of two apple slices.  Stick some marshmallows around the rim of each apple slice to mimic teeth.  Place two slices – complete with “teeth” on top of the other slice.  Instruct to eat or chase their friends around.

Bam.  Let the mom envy commence.  Happy Merry Scary Everyone!

Need Help Executing this “Last Minute Mom” Project?  Feel free to message me! 

Coconut Butter.

As the weather gets crisper – things get cozy in the Battista Family kitchen.  And nothing is cozier than homemade nut butter!  This particular recipe is made with organic cashews, salt, honey, coconut oil and coconut nectar (a great substitute for agave).  The girls and I tested it out and promptly devoured it on warm naan bread.

The best part?  Making your own Coconut Butter takes little effort.  Plus the kids can press the button on the food processor and make loud noises.  What’s better than that?

File Sep 11, 9 50 23 PMWHAT YOU NEED:

  • 4 Cups Organic Salted Cashews
  • 2 Teaspoons Organic Honey
  • 3 Tablespoons Coconut Oil (Plus more as needed)
  • 2 Tablespoons Coconut Nectar
  • Kosher Salt (Season to taste)
  • Small Mason Jars
  • Chalkboard Stickers (Jar Labels)
  • White Paint Pen


The products above can be purchased at any organic/natural grocery store.  The craft supplies can be purchased at JoAnn Fabric.  If you have a local farm that sells honey – get the honey for the nut butter there!  In the western suburbs of Chicago – we are huge fans of Heritage Prairie Farm.  HPF’s lavender honey is out of this world.  Plus they deliver now.  Go on the website and check it out.
File Sep 11, 9 50 53 PMTake all of the ingredients and put them into a food processor.  Depending upon the size of the processor – you may have to work in batches.  It took the girls and I two tries to work through all of the ingredients.  Add more oil, nectar, honey and salt until you get the flavor and consistency you want.  We like ours with lots of raw chunks in it!  Yum!

Once you are happy with your nut butter – put it into the Small Mason Jars.  Add a sticker with a personal label on it.  I like to add a bit of twine around the jar – just to make it look darling.  Once done, distribute to friends, neighbors, teachers and professional colleagues (“Yes, in addition to being an amazing wife and mother I whip up nut butters in my spare time.”)  No one will ever know it only took you a couple of minutes.  #smugmombonus

TIP:  I did not refrigerate our finished nut butters.  I never refrigerate peanut butter.  It gets too hard.  However, if you are worried, go ahead and refrigerate and just take out an hour before you plan to serve it.  At home, we are obsessed with naan (chewy Indian bread) – I recommend warming some naan (or other homemade/bakery fresh bread in the oven) – slather it with Coconut Butter, sliced bananas, and drizzle honey on top.  Then try to stop eating it (impossible).


Job Jars: A Great Way to Keep Kids on Task.

Keeping kids on task is tricky.  When Jeff and I added baby number three to our family – it became necessary for our big girls (ages 7 and 5) to step up and help more around the house.  We soon discovered that shrieking at them to “make their beds” and “take a shower” and (the worst) “eat your food” was not working.  Our kids just looked at us with vacant stares as our heads spun (channel ‘the Exorcist’).

The result?  Two exhausted parents.  One hurricane house.  Three wild kids.

I discovered “Job Jars” when I was visiting a mom friend.  She had been using them with success.  The idea is genius and since implementing it in our home – Jeff and I have been thrilled with the conviction in which our girls have been getting their “jobs” done.  The best part?  Making “Job Jars” is easy.

File Aug 26, 3 15 25 PM

“Job Jars”

What you Need:

  • Hot glue gun
  • Craft paint (I like Decoart Paint.  It comes in a lot of fun colors and includes a brush)
  • Jumbo Craft Sticks (pre-painted or un-painted)
  • Small wood cutouts
  • Chalkboard stickers
  • Fine tip painter pen (white)
  • One oversized jar and one small jar per kid
  • Jar labels

How to Create:

I do most of my shopping at JoAnn Fabric (I love their coupons!).  Once you get your supplies, lay down some old newspaper, cardboard or wax paper on a flat surface.  Take the wood cutouts and spread them out.  Paint each cutout its own unique color.  Let dry.  Flip over and paint the other side.

TIP:  If you are making more than one jar (for multiple children) – I find it is best to make sure each “job stick” is the same (i.e. “Get Dressed” is a pink flower for everyone).  You avoid fights down the road over “who” gets “what” stick.  Parents of daughters – you know what I am talking about.

If you buy the pre-painted jumbo craft sticks – you can move right onto the next stage.  If you buy the “raw” craft sticks – paint just like you did with the cutouts.

File Aug 26, 3 14 19 PM

Take your painted cutout and hot glue it onto the craft stick.  Let dry for thirty minutes.  It is fun to mix and match colors.  While the sticks and cutouts are drying, take the chalkboard stickers and fine tip painter pen and write each “job” you want a child to complete on the sticker.  Again, let dry.  Suggested “jobs” include:

  • Get dressed
  • Eat
  • Brush teeth
  • Make bed
  • Shower
  • Homework

Customize the sticks for whatever goals you want your kids to accomplish around the house!

File Aug 26, 3 53 49 PM

Once the sticks are dried, flip them over and affix a chalkboard sticker onto each one.  Place all of the “jobs” in the big oversized jar (I like using fat squat Mason jars for this project).  Take a jar label and write “Jobs” or “Tasks” on it (“Chores” will do nicely as well) and affix on the large jar.  Then, write each child’s name on a jar label and affix to each smaller jar.  Place all of the “jobs’ into the oversized jar.  Then, take each task you want your child to complete and place it into their respective jar.

It your child’s goal to “empty their jar.”  As they complete each task, they remove a “job” from their “jar” and place it back into the large jar.  Once their jar is completely empty, I reward our kids with a small treat (a piece of chocolate, a sticker etc.).  Not only do the “jobs” get done – but they also get done with a smile!  There is nothing wrong with a bit of healthy competition amongst siblings in this effort as well.

Make sure to include your children in this craft.  They will enjoy painting the cutouts and creating this motivational tool with you.  Our “Job Jars” are proudly on display in the kitchen.  Who knows – I might even create a jar for Jeff.  Tasks to include:  throw away empty chip bag; mow grass; and wash socks.