A life, legacy and long overdue tribute recipe

Hot water cornbread may be a classic, rustic, southern accoutrement.  But to me its so much more.

Hot water cornbread embodies transformation.  The gathering of simple, ubiquitous ingredients can be changed or transformed into something satisfying by just investing a little care and time in the mixing process.

A life and legacy of service

Yeah, I went a little deep here, but for good reason. You see hot water cornbread was an absolute favorite of my mentor Brenda Marsh Mitchell. (Post alert: a sassy hot water corn bread recipe is featured.) In fact when she recommended me to produce and manage the Taste of Soul Cookbook project with Los Angeles Sentinel Newspaper owner Danny Bakewell, Sr., she intended to include a recipe of the tasty, pan fried cake she loved so much. But when space became an issue, she decided not to include it. Instead she insisted I include one of my recipes in the cookbook.  That was so gracious and giving of her.

This is the spirit that was embodied in her character and defined her life and . When Brenda passed away on August 3, 2014, Los Angeles lost one of its most beloved angels.

Brenda Marsh Mitchell. Photo courtesy of Tracy Mitchell.

The wind beneath her wings

For 45 years, “Brenda was the driving force and motivation behind many of the community’s most treasured and sacred events and institutions,” the Los Angeles Sentinel Newspaper so rightly stated. She impacted the lives of countless mothers, children, youth, families, seniors and homeless residents by compelling everyone she encountered to invest a little care and time in the community she loved.

For thirty of those years she worked tirelessly, alongside businessman Danny Bakewell, Sr., at the Brotherhood Crusade. There, this inseparable dual lead and championed many social, economic and educational programs that to this day continue to empower and improve the quality of life for the underserved residents in Los Angeles.

It was at  the Brotherhood Crusade where she became the Founding President of Mothers In Action (MIA), a 501C(3) organization formed after the 1992 Los Angeles civil unrest. MIA focused on program services like youth mentoring, financial literacy training, summer internships, life skills training, and food distribution programs for seniors and the homeless.

During the last 15 years of her life,  she served as  the right hand and confidant to Los Angeles Sentinel Executive Publisher Danny Bakewell, Sr. There she executed Bakewell’s vision that included a myriad of social, health and political projects that often resulted from the newspaper’s coverage of issues that had a impact on the community. Elected officials, clergy, celebrities and business leaders all knew that when Brenda called, it was to enlist their assistance in an endeavor to foster harmony, equity and justice.

Taste of Soul Family Festival. Photo credit: Los Angeles Sentinel Taste of Soul Website.

It was at the Los Angeles Sentinel that she conceived the idea of the Taste of Soul Family Festival, the largest festival and gathering of African American Businesses in the Western United States. Under her project management, the event grew into a destination event which now attracts 350,000 attendees.

Her Legacy Continues

Tracy Mitchell, President, Mothers In Action. Photo courtesy of Tracy Mitchell.

Today Tracy Mitchell continues her mother’s work as President of Mother’s In Action. She is the youngest of Brenda’s three daughters, all who grew up volunteering and working with their mother since they were small children.

“Brenda’s daily prayer was let me be a blessing to someone else. This was instilled in me at a very early age,” said Tracy. “Continuing her legacy through Mother’s In Action was a no brainer because I had developed that passion for giving back to those less fortunate thanks to my mother.

Loyal, dedicated and compassionate are the three attributes Tracy says define the essence of Brenda. While Brenda’s accomplishments and influence became renown from her work with the Brotherhood Crusade and the Los Angeles Sentinel Newspaper, she was driven by the many obstacles she fought to overcome from her past.

“I believe Brenda’s career path allowed her to help so many people because she had experienced so much from the challenges of being raised by a single mother, to helping raise her younger siblings when her  mother’s health started to fail, to later being placed in foster care for a period of time,” said Tracy. “She knew about the struggle and was driven to do everything she could to help those with the greatest needs.”

Helping children get back to school

This year Mother’s in Action celebrates the 20-year anniversary of their Back to School Health & Family Festival. It takes place on Saturday, August 4, 2018 from 9:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m., here in Los Angeles at Exposition Park.

Eye exams, immunizations, health screenings and hair cuts are just some of the free services that are offered. Tracy says this annual event was very dear to Brenda’s heart. She worked tirelessly in securing resources and sponsorships because she knew if kids couldn’t see or hear and have basic supplies, it could adversely impact their school year.

The children also get backpacks stocked with school supplies, and they take home food items like fresh fruits and vegetables thanks to their generous sponsors. Mother’s in Action will also provide the children new school uniforms and underwear during this year’s event.

“We serve about 1,500 children including the City’s homeless and foster children at the event. Brenda saw a community that didn’t have what they needed and she wanted to be a resource,” said Tracy. “And we know you just can’t serve the children, you have to serve the entire family,” said Tracy adding that the event also provides health screenings, information on job training programs for the adults, and much more.

Brenda Marsh Mitchell and Tracy Mitchell working together. Photo courtesy of Tracy Mitchell.

What the village needs

Tracy says the greatest need right now is for individuals and business who are willing to invest their time and resources to help Mother’s In Action continue the work her mother started.  Brenda’s dream was to open a “Mother’s House,” a place where direct services could be provided like tutoring, computer lab access, financial literacy training and a myriad of other programs and services.

“I remember when I was a young girl in school, I wrote my mother a letter and said I wanted to use all of the experience I was gaining from her and one day give back to our community.  As much as possible, I’ve tried to live my life that way. MIA is a perfect vehicle for me to do that,” Tracy said.

How you can help

If you would like to help Mother’s In Action with the upcoming Back to School Health & Family Festival, you can donate by clicking here.  You can also contact the office at (323)290-0456 to find out how you or your business can support their other program initiatives.

Hot water cornbread tribute recipe

And now for that recipe I promised you. Brenda loved hot water corn bread.

While growing up, Tracy says she remembers eating it with most meals. She says when her mother didn’t make it, she would find an individual or restaurant that would.  Tracy believes the love of hot water cornbread has its genesis in Brenda’s Arkansas roots.

As a tribute to Brenda and her graciousness, and to acknowledge the opportunity she afforded me which helped jump started my career as a food journalist, I created this hot water corn bread recipe with her in mind.

It’s classic yet light and tasty. The addition of fresh grilled corn cut from the cob along with fresh chopped thyme leaves elevates the rustic fried cake into something unexpectedly good. Kind of like Brenda used to do, always elevating something and making it unexpectedly good. For this recipe I use red pepper flakes or Chipotle Chile Pepper (sometimes both)  to make it sassy and classy, because Brenda was.

This recipe pairs well with traditional Southern cuisine and just about any meal you enjoy bread with. Slather a little honey butter on the surface and that’s good eating my foodie friends.

Sassy and Savory Hot Water Cornbread

  • Servings: 3 to 6
  • Difficulty: Easy
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Fresh thyme and grilled corn elevate this classic recipe. The red pepper flakes and Chipotle Chile Pepper makes it a bit sassy.


Ingredients


1 cup yellow corn meal
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon Chipotle Chile Pepper or red chili flakes (your call here)
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves, chopped
½ cup corn (featured in this recipe fresh grilled, cut from cob)
1 ½ cup boiling water
Oil for frying (canola or grapeseed)

Directions

    1. Pour 1/2 inch of cooking oil in a large skillet set on medium heat.
    2. Whisk together dry ingredients and fresh thyme in a bowl.
    3. Slowly pour in boiling water.
    4. Carefully stir to combine ingredients. Fold in corn.
    5. Once the oil is hot, scoop up batter in a ¼ measuring cup and slowing pour batter in the oil. Gently flatten batter into a round disk. Batter should be enough for  six (6) ¼ cup scoops.
    6. Cook 2 to 3 minutes or until brown around the edges, then carefully flip over and cook an additional 2 to 3 minutes. Work in batches of two, adding additional oil if necessary.
    7. Drain the finish hot water cornbread on a plate lined with paper towels. Serve warm.

Time to “up” your biscuit game

What happens when you leave me alone in the kitchen on a Saturday night?

I morph into a whimsical, aspirational baker.

When I don’t have a Saturday night event, party, gathering, date (wink wink sweetie) or anything else on my calendar, a wave of epicurean fearlessness stirs up in me, and there’s usually a mixing bowl involved too.

In the still of that Saturday night, my imagination gets a great workout as I try to manifest my thoughts into something edible.

Oh the misses I have had. They have been as numerous as the stars and funnier than Melissa McCarthy in Boss Lady.

But here’s the life lesson baked into this analogy: failure is only a bruise and not a tattoo.

Now on to biscuits

Oh how I love thee, my moist and tasty delight.
I love thee in the early morning.
I love thee at night.
I love thee in the afternoon, as sun breaks free from the morning light.
Oh how I love thee my biscuit, you truly are the object of my delight.

My poem might be a littler syrupy, but who doesn’t like syrup with their biscuits?

And who doesn’t love waking up to the smell of biscuits wafting through the air, even if  they are ‘”pop and fresh” dough straight out of a cylinder tube.

But homemade are always the best.

Homemade 7Up biscuits are perfect for dinner.

In my opinion, biscuits are what’s up for breakfast, lunch or dinner.

And using 7UP in a biscuit recipe is – well – what’s up in this story.

You undoubtedly know someone who has made a 7UP cake, perhaps you have, and you know how delightful the flavor is in baked goods. Well this recipe has a delicate lemony flavor and makes a moist, tender biscuit that browns beautifully.

They are great for breakfast, bu t I like to use them instead of rolls when I make chicken or fish sliders. They have that little something special that make you go hmmm.

So get those mixing bowls out and up your biscuit game.

7UP Biscuits

  • Servings: 8 to 10
  • Difficulty: Easy
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A moist, tender biscuit with a delicate lemony flavor.

Ingredients


2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
5 tablespoons melted butter
3/4 cup (6 ounces) of 7UP

Directions

  1. Heat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
  2. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or lightly spray a baking sheet with non-stick baking spray.
  3. Combine the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and sugar in a mixing bowl.
  4. Blend thoroughly with a whisk or fork.
  5. Add the melted butter and 7UP, and stir until the mixture holds together.
  6. Turn out onto a floured surface and knead 3 or 4 times to make a soft dough.
  7. Pat the soft dough into a circle about 3/4-inch thick.
  8. Cut the biscuits with a biscuit cutter and place on the prepared baking sheet.
  9. Lightly brush top with milk and sprinkle with sugar.
  10. Bake in the preheated oven 13 to 15 minutes, or until the bottoms are browned. Makes 8 to 10 biscuits.

A tea sandwich fit for a royal and a few blurred eyed girl friends

Royal Wedding Watch Party evite.

I put out the call –  and they came.

On May 19, 2018 at 3:30 a.m. in the morning, the Royal Wedding Watch Party began.

The faithful and true “women of their word” arrived at Casa Veronique (that’s what I call my home) to watch the royal wedding of Meghan Markle to Prince Harry of Wales.

Royal Wedding Posse. Bottom left to right: Anne Dunn, Veronica Hendrix Keta Davis, Doreen Mills, Roxanne Washington. Top left to right: Jackie Marriott, Angela Hoffman, Donna Horton, Jan Davis, Schmel Graham, Kathleen Allison.

Blurred eyed and wearing their  “fascinator” hats, my friends filed into my living room with a glint of excitement, anticipation and wonder in their eyes. After all, it’s not every day someone from our Los Angeles community falls in love with a prince and marries him.

For most of them (except one who came grumbling and you know who you are), not even an early morning call time could keep them from watching this historic event.  And watching the royal wedding in the company of girl friends? Extraordinary. Unforgettable.  Nutty.  And so worth it.

Wave Newspapers, lead story, Western edition.

The Los Angeles Wave Newspapers captured the early morning viewing nuptials at my Spanish-style home in an article they published following the wedding.  It is clear from many of the comments of my guests – as reported in the story – it was a gathering of women who viewed the wedding from varying perspectives. That was no surprise to me. I know these women well.

There was one perspective that we all shared.

You guessed it – the food.

You see this group of accomplished and consciously heeled women not only practice living their best lives, they make it a point to enjoy some really good food while in spirited pursuit of it.

So what kind of early morning menu do you plan for such an esteemed group of royal wedding watchers? A British theme menu with a splash of Southern/Cali soul, paired with coffee and lots of the bubbly stuff.

Royal Wedding Watch Party food: Left: banquet table spread. Right top: breakfast potatoes and grilled chicken and garlic sausages; lemon, elder flower and champagne cupcakes. Right bottom: mini chocolate chip tea cakes, fried chicken drumettes.

The menu featured:

    • Mini chocolate chip tea cakes
    • Crab and vegetable tea sandwiches
    • Chicken drumettes
    • Quiche Lorraine
    • Grilled chicken and garlic sausages
    • Breakfast potatoes
    • Fresh fruit
    • Lemon, elder flower liquor and champagne cupcakes with cream cheese frosting

Thankfully, a few of the ladies helped out by bringing the quiches, fresh fruit and chicken drumettes. It was indeed a royal feast for a few divine friends. We munched and sipped throughout the entire wedding and these royal wedding watchers didn’t depart my domicile until about10:00 a.m. It was a long, thrilling morning.

Left: Royal wedding watch parth guests enjoying the early morning feast. Right top: Veronica Hendrix with Donna Horton; Veronica Hendrix with Anne Dunn. Right bottom: Veronica Hendrix with Angela Hoffman; Veronica Hendrix with Jan Davis.

Well, the wedding is over, Meghan is now the Duchess of Sussex, and the memories of our early morning Royal Wedding Watch party linger on. And so do the memories of the vegetable and crab tea sandwiches I served at the party.

Easy vegetable and crab cream cheese tea sandwiches

My guests loved the Southern Californian inspired little sandwiches. I created this version as homage to Meghan’s Southern California roots while acknowledging her new life as a royal.

The fresh dill in these creamy, little delicate sandwiches made them savory. The finely chopped celery, yellow bell pepper and chopped carrots gave them freshness and a bit of crunch. And the addition of chopped, lump crab meat made them decadent. They were the perfect little bites.

Be careful when you make them. They are so good; no one can eat just one, two, three or four.

Duchess in Mumbai, India during a 2017 women’s empowerment mission with World Vision.

As I think about the union of Meghan and Harry, I can’t wait to see how the newly minted Duke and Duchess of Sussex will use their platform for good.

I’m chuffed to bits about it all. That’s British slang for “I’m pleased  with what’s happened.”  So cheerio loves, and I hope you enjoy the recipe.

Easy vegetable and crab cream cheese tea sandwiches

  • Servings: 8 to 10
  • Difficulty: Very easy
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A savory little sandwich filled with flavor.

Ingredients

1~8 ounce package of cream cheese, softened at room temperature
2 heaping tablespoons fresh chopped dill
¼ teaspoon garlic powder
½ teaspoon celery salt
2 heaping tablespoons fresh yellow bell pepper, finely chopped
2 heaping tablespoons fresh celery, finely chopped
2 heaping tablespoons fresh grated carrots, finely chopped
½ cup lump crab meat, chopped (make it a generous ½ cup measurement)
1~24 ounce package of sliced sandwich style bread (package will contain 20 to 22 slices)

Directions

  1. Place softened cream cheese in a medium sized bowl.
  2. Add fresh dill, garlic powder and celery salt. Mix well with a large, sturdy spoon. Add yellow bell pepper, celery and carrots. Mix well. Fold in lump crab and mix until it is completely incorporated.

To assemble

  1. Trim the crusts from each all the bread slices. You will have between 20 to 22 slices. Reserve half of the bread slices to top the sandwiches later.
  2. Spread 1 heaping tablespoon (I used a 1-1/8″  All Purpose Stainless Steel Scoop) of the cream cheese mixture over the other half of slices, getting close to the edges. Place a reserved sandwich slice on top.
  3. Cut each completed sandwich diagonally with a bread or serrated knife, if you have one.
  4. Then cut each diagonal slice in half. Repeat until all the sandwiches are complete. Makes 44 to 48 quarter sandwiches.
  5. Plate sandwiches and cover with plastic wrap.  Chill 15 minutes to 12 hours.
  6. Before serving, garnish plated sandwiches with more chopped dill or chopped chives.

A tasty, home-style, Mothers’ Day “gift experience”

Spinach and Turkey Sausage Lasagne served with fresh, oven-roasted broccoli.

Social activist Anna Jarvis is credited with creating Mother’s Day back in 1908 as a way of honoring the passing of her mother and the sacrifices that all mothers make for their children. History records that Jarvis later denounced the holiday because it became so commercialized. She subsequently spent the later years of her life trying to undo her efforts which led to it being recognized as a national holiday.

Mother’s Day spending

Her efforts failed and the commercialization of Mother’s’ Day grew exponentially year after year. Fast forward to 2018, Mother’s Day spending is expected to total “a near-record $23.1 billion this year,” according to the annual survey released by the National Retail Federation (NRF), with Americans spending an average of $180 on mom to celebrate her.

The NRF survey also revealed another interesting fact: 29% or 3 out of 10 moms would love to receive a “gift of experience” such as a gym membership, spa day, paint and sip outing, gourmet cooking class – you get the ideal.

A heartfelt gift of experience

About 70% of us will book a reservation at a restaurant and take mom out to eat.  That is a lovely experience. While I absolutely appreciate the ritual of dining out on Mother’s Day, I have to admit I equally appreciate the effort of having a lovely home cooked meal thoughtfully prepared, beautifully plated and cheerfully served to me.  And sometimes, avoiding the crowds, long wait times and skipping the hustle and bustle at restaurants is just what I need.

What is more loving and nurturing than having someone you love make dinner as way of honoring you? That is a not only a wonderful experience, it is a most memorable one.

A Mother’s Day recipe

A Mother’s Day recipe she will not forget.

If you are thinking about dining home this Mother’s Day and you are searching for a recipe to wow and honor your mom or the woman who has played a significant role in nurturing you, look no further.

My Mother’s Day Spinach and Turkey Sausage Lasagne recipe is  hearty, satisfying, scrumptious and beautiful. It uses fresh spinach and a homemade sauce made with fire roasted tomatoes. One word of caution: this recipe takes time to prepare, so carve out some time and take your time. It is not to be rushed. And after you taste that first bite, it will be your favorite lasagne, rivaling any restaurant recipe.

I hope you and your family enjoy this recipe and that you have a beautiful Mother’s Day.

Oh, and the gifts of experience the NRF mentioned that moms would love to have for Mother’s Day,  add at least one of them too – in addition to making her dinner. After all,  she deserves it.

Cooks note: I did sprinkle grated Parmesan cheese over each layer of mozzarella cheese to boost the flavor. This is completely optional.  

Mother’s Day Spinach and Turkey Sausage Lasagne

  • Servings: 8 to 12
  • Difficulty: intermediate
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This will be your favorite lasagne, rivaling any restaurant recipe.

Ingredients


1 immersion blender (or blender if you must)
2 pounds Italian sausage, casings removed
3 cups grated Mozzarella cheese
1 box no boil lasagne noodles (Barilla featured here)
4 cans simple truth fire roasted tomatoes
1 medium bell pepper
½  cup chopped red onion
2 cloves chopped garlic
1 tablespoon dry Italian seasoning
3 teaspoons sugar
1 teaspoon salt
¼ cup plus 2 tablespoons finely grated Parmesan cheese
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/3 cup chopped Kalamata olives
1~ 5 ounce package fresh spinach
16 ounces ricotta cheese
Salt, pepper

Directions

  1. To a large mixing bowl, add 4 cans of fire roasted tomatoes.
  2. Add 1 tablespoon of olive oil to a skillet set on medium heat. Add chopped bell pepper and cook for two minutes, stirring frequently. Add chopped onion and stirring another two 2 minutes, stirring frequently. Add chopped garlic and stir another 30 seconds, until garlic is fragrant.
  3. Add sauté vegetables to bowl of tomatoes.  With an immersion blender, blend until semi smooth, about 40 to 50 pulses.( If you don’t have an immersion blender, and you should, place contents into a stand up blender, and pulse until semi smooth.)
  4. Add blended tomatoes and sautéed vegetables to a large sauce pan. Add 1 tablespoon Italian season, 3 teaspoons sugar, 1 teaspoon salt, 2 tablespoon finely grated Parmesan cheese and 2 tablespoons olive oil. Blend well. Set heat at medium, once sauce is heated, turn down heat and simmer for 20 minutes, stirring frequently. Remove from heat once done and set aside.
  5. While sauce is simmering, to that same skillet set on medium heat add 1 tablespoon olive oil. Once heated, add 5 ounce package of fresh spinach. Sprinkle with a little salt. Cook, stirring frequently, until all the spinach is wilted.  Remove spinach from the skillet and scoop into heat resistant dish. Once cooled, you will chop it.
  6. To that same skillet, add Italian sausage (casing removed). Break up the meat with a wooden spoon once in pan. Cook on medium to medium high heat until lightly browned. Drain off excess fat.
  7. To a large bowl, add ricotta cheese, ¼ cup grated Parmesan cheese, 1/3 cup chopped Kalamata olives, chopped spinach. Blend well. Add salt and pepper to taste. Make sure to taste it to ensure it has enough flavor.

To assemble

  1. Spray the bottom of a large 9 x 13 casserole dish with non-stick spray.  Spread 1 cup of sauce on the bottom of the baking dish.
  2. Using 4 sheet of pasta, form two rows across the length of the dish. The noodles will overlap in the center. Leave a little space between the rolls as the pasta will cook and expand.
  3. Take half of the ricotta cheese mixture and spread over both rolls of pasta.
  4. Take half of the cooked Italian sausage and spread it evenly over the casserole dish.
  5. Scoop out 2 generous cups of sauce and spread over the meat in the casserole dish.
  6. Cover sauce with 1 cup of cheese.
  7. Repeat, using 4 more pasta sheets to form second layer.
  8. For the final layer, top with 4 more pasta sheets. Add remaining sauce and spread evenly over sheet pasta. Spread 1 cup of cheese over the top.
  9. Tightly cover with foil sprayed with non-stick cooking spray.
  10. Bake at 375 for 45 minutes. Remove foil and bake another 15 minutes until browned and bubbly.
  11. Let stand 30 minutes before serving.