Southern Fried Hoecakes

I like to call myself a Southern girl that just happened to be born in the city.  Since I was a child I’ve been making annual trips down to Mississippi to visit family and learn the history of my descendants that lived there.  Don’t tell anyone but I can fake a country accent better than those folks on the show Nashville, lol!  But seriously I love all things southern and these hoecakes make me feel like a country girl.

For those of you who have been following my blog for a while you know that I love my family in the south and all the food that comes with it!  Hoecakes are one of those foods that instantly makes me think of being in the Mississippi country surrounded by family and love.  My cousin Sherry actually made these for Thansgiving one year and I’ve been addicted ever since.

Never had hoecakes? It’s basically taking cornmeal batter and frying them in butter similar to how you would make pancakes.  And in case you were wondering where the name came from check this article on Wikipedia.  They can be a side item for dinner or served for breakfast with fresh fruit and honey.  Either way I hope y’all enjoy.  What’s your favorite southern dish?


1 cup AP flour

1 cup self-rising cornmeal

1 tbsp sugar

1/2 tsp salt

2 eggs

3/4 cup buttermilk

1/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon water

1/4 cup butter, melted

Oil or butter for frying


In a large bowl combine the flour, cornmeal, sugar and salt.  In a small bowl combine the eggs, buttermilk, water and melted butter.   Slowly add wet ingredients to dry ingredients until thoroughly combined.

Heat the frying oil or butter in a medium or large skillet over medium heat. Drop the batter, by full tablespoons, into the hot skillet. Use about 2 tablespoons of batter per hoecake. Fry each hoecake until brown and crisp; turn each hoecake with a spatula, and then brown the other side. Remove each hoecake to drain on a paper towel-lined plate.


Recipe adapted from The Food Network


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Lamb Meatballs with Cucumber Dill Sauce


As my friend says, “It’s not a party without meatballs!”  So for my latest Girls Night In I made these deliciou Lamb Meatballs. I wanted to try something different from the standard BBQ  meatballs, which are pretty darn good in their own right.   However, if you’re looking for something quick and easy to make that will still impress your guests these are perfect.  They only took about 30 minutes to prepare (if that long) and 20 minutes to bake. So if you’re in a rush you can make the meatballs ahead of time, refrigerate them and pop them in the oven right before your party.

These meatballs are tender and juicy with just the right amount of crunch from the onion and toasted pine nuts.  Next time you have a party make these and trust me your guest will love you for it!  They go  perfectly with a glass of pino noir or riesling if you’re not into red wine.



2 lb Lamb, ground
1 tbsp olive oil
3/4 cup red onion, finely chopped
1/2 cup pine nuts, toasted and finely chopped
2 tsp ground cumin
3 tbsp fresh lemon juice, divided
3/4 cup Italian bread crumbs
1 1/2 tbsp fresh dill, finely chopped and divided
1 large egg, beaten
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper
1 1/2 cup greek yogurt, strained
1/2 cup cucumber dill dressing
Fresh Dill for Garnish


In a saute pan heat olive oil over medium heat.  Add onions and saute until translucent, about 3 minutes and set aside. Meanwhile in a large bowl thoroughly combine lamb, pine nuts, cumin, 2 tablespoons lemon juice, bread crumbs, 1 tablespoon dill, egg, salt and pepper.  Add onions and combine using your hands.  Line a baking sheet with foil and roll out 1 1/2” balls placing them on baking sheet. These can be prepared ahead of time and placed in the refrigerator for up to a day.  Bake for 20 minutes.

While meatballs are baking, prepare yogurt sauce. In a small bowl, combine Cucumber Dill Dressing, yogurt, 1 tablespoon of lemon juice and 1/2 tablespoon of dill.  Salt and pepper to taste. Serve as a starter with dipping sauce on the side and garnish with fresh dill.


Recipe adapted from Paula Deen


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Mexican Drunken Shrimp with Guacamole

Last week a few of my girlfriends and I went to dinner at Cooper’s Hawk.  If you’ve never been there, it’s a winery that also serves some pretty good food.  I will admit that my favorite part of the night, other than sharing some much needed laughs with my girls, was the wine tasting at the beginning.  It was so crowded that we had an hour and a half wait before we sat at our table!  But the wine tasting made it all worth while.  I opted for the “Sweet Wine” tasting which consisted of one ounce pours (yeah right!) of eight different wines.  I liked some and loved most of what was served, my favorite being the Cranberry and Romance Red wines.

 After all that I thought the night couldn’t get any better.  Luckily my girlfriend, Rekia, is a member of their wine club and received two of their newest cookbooks Celebration Recipes From Cooper’s Hawk Family and Friends, one of which she gave to me. Oh happy day! Cookbooks are like dirty magazines to me…I like to read them in private and they give me an obscene amount of joy, even if I never make a thing from them. However, after seeing the Mexican Drunken Shrimp on the menu and getting a complete thumbs up from my friend Monica, I decided to try this recipe for myself.

First, the shrimp is wrapped in bacon.  I could just stop there because you all know how much I LOVE bacon!  But I digress…ok so the shrimp is wrapped in bacon, but then to make the sauce you use some of the drippings and fond from the bacon, add to that tequila (yum) and some chicken broth and butter and you have a killer sauce.  To top it off add some homemade guacamole spiced up with jalapeno peppers that gives it the Mexican feel.  I would suggest serving each shrimp on a small amount of guacamole as an appetizer with some extra guac and chips on the side.  Or they can be served with rice and beans as a complete entree.   I can’t wait to make these again!



For shrimp:

14 jumbo shrimp, peeled and deveined
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1/2 tsp pepper
7 slices bacon, halved crosswise
2 tbsp canola oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup tequila
1/2 cup low sodium chicken broth
3 tbsp unsalted butter

For guacamole:

2 ripe avocados
3 1/2 tsp fresh lime juice (1-2 limes)
1/2 cup and 2 tbsp diced tomato
2 tbsp minced onion
4 tsp minced, seeded jalapeno
3 tbsp minced fresh cilantro
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper


Rinse shrimp and season with garlic powder and pepper.  Wrap each shrimp in with a half slice of bacon, place a plate, cover and refrigerate.

To make the guacamole, cut the avocados in half, remove pits and scoop out the flesh into a medium bowl.  Using the back of a fork, mash the avocados until there are no large chunks.  Add 2 1/2 teaspoons of lime juice, 1/2 cup of tomato, the onion, 2 teaspoons of the chile, 2 tablespoons of the cilantro, the salt and pepper.  Mix thoroughly, cover and set aside.  To prevent the avocado from oxidizing, cover with plastic wrap by pressing the wrap down into the bowl until it touches the guacamole and completely covers it.

In a large pan heat the canola oil over medium high heat.  Add bacon wrapped shrimp and cook on both sides about 5 minutes on each side until shrimp is completely cooked through and bacon is done.  You may need to rotate the shrimp and cook on all sides depending on how large the shrimp is.  Remove and set aside on paper towels to drain.

Pour the fat from the pan, reduce heat to medium and add the garlic and saute about 15 seconds.  Add the tequila, stir and make sure to scrape the brown bits off the bottom of the pan.  Simmer and reduce by half.  Add the broth and reduce by half again.  Add the butter, remaining 1 teaspoon lime juice, 2 teaspoons of chile and 2 tablespoons of tomato.  Stir to mix well and simmer about 1 minute.  Remove from heat.

To serve place shrimp on a tablespoon size dollop of guacamole.  Spoon sauce over shrimp and garnish with cilantro and a wedge of lime.


Recipe adapted from Celebration Recipes from Cooper’s Hawk and Friends


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Candied Yams

Thanksgiving is finally here and me, my mom and dad are busy cooking, baking, sauteeing, boiling and grilling and I couldn’t think of anything I’d rather be doing.  Put two of my favorite things together, family and food, and I’m a happy girl 🙂

Candied yams are a classic soul food dish and I grew up eating them at Sunday dinners with my family and definitely during holidays.  I’ve seen several versions where they’re baked and topped with marshmallows, but in this version the sweet potatoes are lightly boiled and sauteed with a brown sugar butter sauce on top of the stove.  They cook pretty quickly and can be ready to go in 40 minutes.  However, if you have the time allow them to slow cook for several hours.  I think this allows the syrup to caramelize and makes a sweeter (and yummier) dish.


4-6 medium sweet potatoes peeled and sliced in 1/2 inch segments

1 stick of sweetened salted butter

1/4 tsp nutmeg

1/4 tsp ginger

1/2 tsp cinnamon

1/2 tsp real vanilla extract

1/2 cup brown sugar

1/2 cup white sugar


Peel potatoes and cut into 1/2 inch medallions.  Boil potatoes until they pierce easily with a fork but are still firm.

In separate pot melt butter and brown sugar together add all seasonings.  Add sweet potato medallions and cover with brown sugar cinnamon mixture.  Simmer 30-40 minutes with a lid on the pan until potatoes have caramelized.  Be careful not to stir too much or potatoes will fall apart.  Serve warm.

Recipe adapted from The Joy of Soul Food

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Baked Mac n Cheese

Every family has their holiday traditions and my family is no different.  My mom makes the dressing, turkey and cakes while my Dad makes the greens, sweet potatoes, mac n cheese and sweet potato pie.  The peach cobbler has become my specialty but this year I decided to help my parents make Thanksgiving dinner with the hopes that when I have my own family someday I won’t burn the house down!


I know the turkey is the star of Thanksgiving but in my family baked mac n cheese is just as important.  My Dad tried many recipes and methods before making the perfect version and even though this is not his recipe it’s pretty darn good.  Don’t tell them I said this, but my sisters are mac n cheese snobs and they ate the whole pan, lol.  So I would call that a major success.

This year I’ll be peeking over my Dad’s shoulder to see what he puts in his mac n cheese so hopefully I’ll be making an update to this post in the near future 😉  In the meantime enjoy!

♥ Nina



2 tablespoons butter

1/4 cup finely chopped onion

2 tablespoons all-purpose flour

2 cups milk

3/4 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon dry mustard

1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper

1 (8 ounce) package elbow macaroni

2 cups shredded sharp Cheddar cheese

2 cups shredded Colby Jack cheese

1 cup shredded mild Cheddar cheese


Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Melt butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat, add onion and saute for 2 minutes.  Stir in flour and cook 1 minute, stirring constantly.  Stir in milk, salt, mustard and pepper; cook, stirring frequently, until mixture boils and thickens.

Bring a pot of lightly salted water to a boil.  Add macaroni and cook for 8 to 10 minutes or until al dente; drain.  Do not over cook or macaroni will be mushy.

Add the cheddar and American cheeses; stir until cheese melts. Combine macaroni, 1 cup of mild cheddar and cheese sauce in a 2 quart baking dish; mix well.  Sprinkle the top of the macaroni with remaining cheddar and bake in preheated oven for 30 minutes, or until hot and bubbly.   If you like a brown crust on your macaroni, broil on low heat for 3-5 minutes.  Let cool 10 minutes before serving.


*An NCJ Original*


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Late Night Baking Party – Cheddar Chive Cornbread

The first Late Night Baking Party on Nina’s Cooking Journey was a huge success!  There were submissions from several bloggers and NCJ Peeps and I cannot thank you all enough for joining me in this weird experiment of mine.  All the recipes looked amazing and I can’t wait to try some of them myself.  I even Ustreamed during the party and got to know some of you all a little better and hopefully you got to know me.  I will definitely be hosting another party so if you have any ideas for a fun virtual party please let me know!  I wasn’t able to share all of the posts but here are some of the recipes from some of my favorite blogger friends.  Feel free to check out a few more posts from NCJ Peeps on my Facebook Page.  A big thanks to you all…you rock!


Banana Pumpkin Nutella Bread from Christine’s Kitchen Chronicles


Old Fashioned Apple Crisp with Caramel Sauce from Noshing with the Nolads


Strawberry Cheesecake Cupcakes from Tortillas and Honey


Maple Bacon Busciuts from Dixie Chik Cooks


Chickpea Chocolate Cupcakes from I Breath…I’m Hungry

Apple Spice Cake from Cooking with Elise


And finally, my contribution Cheddar Chive Cornbread.  My mom makes THE BEST cornbread from scratch and usually doesn’t deviate from her recipe.  So I was extremely surprised when she put this on the dinner table one night.  I thought it would be perfect with the Spicy Chili I made the other week and I was right.  It adds a Tex-Mex feel to a traditional southern dish.


1¼ cups all-purpose flour
1 cup plus 3 tbsp yellow cornmeal
3 tbsp plus 2 tsp sugar
1 tbsp plus 1 tsp baking powder
1¼ tsp salt
2 large eggs
1 tbsp light corn syrup
1¼ cups buttermilk
¾ cup unsalted butter (1½ sticks), melted over low heat and set aside
½ cup sliced scallions (about ¼ inch wide)
4 oz. sharp yellow cheddar, shredded (use more if you prefer)


Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
In a medium-size mixing bowl, whisk together dry ingredients.  Using a separate medium-size bowl, whisk together wet ingredients.   Slowly add wet ingredients to dry ingredients, whisking well to combine.  Add melted butter to the batter, stirring slowly to incorporate.  Finish by folding in chopped scallions and cheddar cheese.

Grease a 9-inch cast-iron skillet with 1 tablespoon of butter and then pour in batter.  Bake until edges are a little crispy and top is golden brown, about 60 minutes.

Remove from oven and place skillet on a cooling rack.  The cast iron retains its heat and will continue to cook the cornbread.  Let cool a bit before serving to allow the cornbread to set.

Recipe adapted from Garden & Gun

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Spice Roasted Sweet Potatoes

When I saw this recipe I thought could something so good be so easy??  The answer to that was an astounding YES!  I would have never thought to use faijita seasoning on sweet potatoes but trust me it works.  No it doesn’t taste like tacos, lol…but combined with the olive oil it does give the sweet potatoes a spicy crust that is delicious.  This would serve as the perfect side to a pork loin, roasted chicken or anything really.  I actually ate the whole bowl right after I took this picture!  This is a quick and easy dish to make especially if you’re cooking for a large dinner party.  Enjoy!


  • 2 large sweet potatoes
  • Olive oil to coat
  • 2 tablespoons of faijita seasoning mix
  • 1/4 tsp cayenne pepper (optional)
  • Salt & Pepper to taste


    1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
    2. Peel the potatoes and dice them into half-inch cubes.
    3. Pour enough olive oil over the potatoes so that each cube is coated.
    4. Sprinkle seasoning over the potatoes and toss to coat each cube.
    5. Bake in a single layer until potatoes are fork-tender with a light caramelized crust on the outside, about 35-40 minutes.  Season with salt and pepper to taste.
    6. Serve immediately.


Source: Adapted from The Bitten Word (

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Cheese Biscuits

Ok, I’ll admit it…I’m a Hunger Games nerd and I love any and everything related to this awesome movie.  I read all 3 books in less than a week and when the movie came out I camped out in the lobby of the theatre for 3 hours just so we could be first in line to see the premiere.  Hey don’t judge me…I know I’m a little obsessed but hey I could be addicted to worse things right??  Just when I was coming off my HG high and life was returning to normal I saw an article about “The Unofficial Hunger Games Cookbook” I literally jumped out of my seat!  Okay maybe not literally but you get my point.

For those who’ve read the books, and not just seen the movie, you all know that food plays a HUGE role in the story line.  I think the author was trying to highlight some of the food/hunger plights going on in the world today.  I could go deeper but instead I’ll point you to this interesting analysis:

These biscuits were all I could have hoped for.  Warm right out of the oven they were fluffy and melted in my mouth.  If you like the biscuits from Red Lobster these are pretty darn close.  Emily does a great job at transforming the most popular recipes, like lambs stew with plums, and making them into actual recipes that taste good.  It’s like seeing fiction come to life right before your eyes.  I can’t wait to make some more recipes from this cookbook!



2 cups Bisquick

1/4 tsp garlic powder

1/4 cup sugar

2/3 cup whole milk

3/4 cup sharp Cheddar cheese, shredded

1/2 cup butter

1/4 tsp garlic powder

1/2 tsp Old Bay Seasoning

1/4 tsp kosher salt



Preheat oven to 450 degrees.  Grease a cookie sheet with butter.  Combine Bisquick, 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder, sugar, milk and cheese until well blended.  Use ice cream scoop or large spoon and drop batter by spoonfuls onto greased cookie sheet.  Bake 8-10 minutes.

Combine butter 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder, Old Bay seasoning and kosher salt in small bowl. Microwave about 30 seconds until butter is melted.  Stir butter and seasonings and brush tops of biscuits with butter mixture.


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Mixed Fruit with Honey

I can’t believe how hot it’s been here in Chicago!  Right now as I type it’s 93 degrees and rising…something is not right with the world.  But I plan to make the best of the heat and am going to go swimming (I’ve been watching a lot of Olympic swim races and it has awakened my desire to do a cannon ball).  In addition to training for the next Olympics I’m making this yummy fruit salad.  Sometimes all you want is something light, sweet and fresh and this definitely delivers.  It’s easy and doesn’t require you to heat up your kitchen by turning on your oven.

A great tip I learned for peeling kiwi is to cut it in half, using a spoon scoop the kiwi out by sliding the spoon in a circular motion along the edges.  You can make a big bowl of this and serve it at a party, use it as yogurt topping or just eat it throughout the week.



12 strawberries

2 bananas

1 cup blackberries

3 kiwi

1 tbsp honey


Rinse fruit and slice into bite size pieces in medium bowl.  Add honey and toss to coat evenly.  Serve and enjoy!


*An NCJ Original*

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Roasted Asparagus

After my weekend of poor eating my body has been craving something healthy!  So I made my favorite veggie, asparagus.  Of all the fancy ways to make asparagus edible I like the KISS (keep it simple stupid) method.  I hate mushy vegetables which you can get by over boiling them.  However, I have a simple way to make them without over or under cooking them.

Even my dog Tabu liked it!  I’ll take that as a seal of approval.



1 bushel of asparagus

2 tbsp olive oil

1 tsp garlic powder

Sea Salt to taste

Crushed black pepper to taste



Preheat oven to 350 degrees and line cookie sheet with aluminum foil.  Rinse asparagus under cool water and dry with a paper towel.  Cut off the ends of asparagus, about an inch.  Place asparagus on the cookie sheet and drizzle with olive oil.  Season with garlic powder, salt & pepper.

Roll asparagus in oil and seasonings to ensure even coverage.  Roast uncovered for 13-18 minutes depending on how tender you prefer them to be.  Flip asparagus about halfway through cooking time.  Serve immediately while still warm.



*An NCJ Original*


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