Archive for ‘Great Ideas’

February 21, 2014

Lessons from Mamaw Maggie: How to properly season and care for your cast iron pan

by Crystal Cook

Pan and Crisco

My Mamaw Maggie passed when I was only six months old. I didn’t get to create my own memories with her, but I felt as though I knew her as everyone I met had a fond memory of her and a story to share. One of the very few items I have of my Mamaw Maggie’s is her cast iron skillet. When I was younger I only really used it when I was feeling nostalgic, and would bake up some cornbread. When I was little my Mom always said cornbread, soup beans and buttermilk was her favorite meal. But as I got older, I began to discover the pan’s varied uses.

If you are not familiar with cast iron pans, they can seem intimidating. All that talk of properly seasoning it, how to wash it (or not wash) it, seems like too much work. But trust me, the benefits of the cast iron pan far out way any care concerns. When seasoned correctly, a cast iron skillet will work better than any non-stick pan in your cupboard. They heat evenly and beautifully, and when properly cared for, they will last a lifetime. In fact, Mamaw Maggie’s pan has lasted several lifetimes!

For Christmas, I received another vintage cast iron skillet from my boyfriend’s family. Since I need to season it, I thought that I would just share with you all the secrets I learned from my Mom – who just happened to learn from her mom- Mamaw Maggie!

  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  • If you have purchased a brand new pan, chances are it will contain a coating of wax. To remove the wax, you will want to thoroughly wash the inside of your skillet with warm soapy water to remove the coating, and rinse it extremely well. Please note that this will be the ONE and ONLY time that you will ever use soap on your pan. After you season it, you will only want to wash with hot water. Since my pan is vintage, and does not have a wax coating, I am just going to wash the pan under hot water for several minutes. It is imperative that you understand that a cast-iron skillet is not dishwasher safe, nor is it made for soaking. For best results, always rinse the pan with hot water immediately after cooking. If you have some stuck on food, try scrubbing with coarse salt or a nonmetal brush.


  • Be sure to dry your skillet thoroughly with paper towels, or if you want to dedicate a kitchen towel to your pan, you can. The main thing is to get it completely dry immediately. Never let it air dry or it will rust.

dry pan

  • Dampen a paper towel with a vegetable oil such as canola oil, lard, or a shortening such as Crisco, and wipe your skillet thoroughly. I always use Crisco, because that is what my Mamaw always did, and I rub the entire thing down with a nice even layer. Note: You don’t want the grease to pool up, but you will want to create a nice sheen or glisten to the pan.


all sides

  • Place the pan upside down on the top rack of a preheated 350° oven. Set a baking sheet, or spread a piece of heavy aluminum foil on the lower rack to catch any grease drippings.

best stove

  • Let the pan bake for 1 hour.
  • Cast iron skillets get very hot so use caution and oven mitts when removing and place on a safe surface for cooling. (In fact, another awesome present they got me was my Lodge Handle Mitt.  I love it!)  Cool for 30 minutes or more until the pan is cool to the touch.

cool with handle

cool for sotring

  • You will reinforce the nonstick coating every time you heat the Crisco in the skillet, so I like to repeat this process two or three times.
  • Rinse and dry skillet thoroughly like mentioned above (no soap).
  • Before putting your pan away, be sure to give it another light coating of oil or shortening to protect it from rust and corrosion. I also like to cover it with a paper towel to protect it from dust.

store with papertowel

Some other important things to note:

  • After you have seasoned your pan, you should avoid cooking anything acidic the first couple of times. In fact, you should try cooking up some bacon, or some other high-fat food, to help build up the surfaces high gloss.
  • Once you have achieved that ultimate gloss, you can cook up just about anything. The only thing you should never try is to boil water. That will cause your pan to rust.
  • Don’t let the cast iron sit too long without using it, if you do it may become a bit rancid. If this happens, clean and re-season the pan (no soap).
  • Always remember to give the pan a light coat of grease after cleaning the pan and storing.
December 13, 2013

A few of our favorite things: The Queen’s online gift guide for the foodie in your life!

by Crystal Cook

Gift Collage

(Gift descriptions, clockwise)

1. Pineapple Beverage Dispenser $68.00: If you grew up in the south like I did, then you know that pineapples are THE symbol of southern hospitality. In fact, my mom had more pineapple decor than any one woman should ever have. This pineapple beverage dispenser from Anthropologie, reminds me of my childhood and is perfect for some sweet tea or lemonade!

2. 10-Piece Glass Bowl Set $39.95: Contain yourself if you can! This 10-piece glass set from Williams Sonoma is my favorite! Simple, beautiful and functional, they’re very useful for preparing your mise en place and for storing in small kitchens.

3. Charles Viancin Silicone Food Storage Lid Covers $7.95–$12.95: Plastic wrap be gone! I am in love with this silicone creation that provides an airtight seal, and works with any smooth-rimmed bowl or pot. Oh and did I mention it is dishwasher, microwave AND oven safe?!

4. Personalized Casserole Dish $54.00: The beauty of the casserole dish is its variety. Not just the ingredients you fill it with, but the shape, size, color or pattern of the dish. Go on, girl, get crazy—express yourself! With so many fun hues, sizes and shapes, even on the busiest of occasions or the dooziest of days, placing your meal in a sunny container can change your entire mood.

5. Dotty Match Potholders $12.00: They’re cute! They’re colorful! They’re comfy! And let’s face it… a girl can never have too many pot holders.

6. Jalapeño Corer $10.95: How many times have you removed the seeds from a jalapeño and then neglected to wash your hands before rubbing your eyes? It burns! Oh, how it burns! Never make that mistake again with this gadget gem!

7. Casserole Carriers $38.00: Made from amazing chevron-printed fabrics, these totes make for easy transport and real down-home appeal. They’re chic and sassy! Want to make one of your own? Check out our latest cookbook or this YouTube video and learn how to craft your own!

8. Scalloped Celebration Cake Stand $24.00–$38.00: You worked hard on that sweet treat, so show it off! From a cake to cupcakes, even a big pile of cookies, every day is a special occasion with these adorable stands.

9. The Casserole Queens Make-a-Meal Cookbook: Mix and Match 100 Casseroles, Salads, Sides, and Desserts & The Casserole Queens Cookbook: Put Some Lovin’ in Your Oven with 100 Easy One-Dish Recipes Come on, you knew these would make our list!

10. Custom Heirloom Silverware Jewelry, starting as low as $30.00: Order custom-made, or ready-to-wear one-of-a-kind pieces, from Elizabeth Lyons Designs this holiday season. These unique silverware-to-jewelry pieces make for a very special holiday gift and are so very culinary chic! (Hence the name!)

Happy shopping!

November 6, 2013

The Great Cannoli Casserole Challenge!

by Crystal Cook

The Casserole Queens were recently in the Kansas City area to present at the 2013 Hen House Market Holiday Celebration! We are big fans of the Hen House Market and all the terrific folks of Kansas. Everyone is always so welcoming and they truly makes us feel like royalty.

In preparation for the event, our dear friend Jasper Mirabile, the owner and proprietor of  Jasper’s in Kansas City AND one of the nicest guys you’ll meet, had us on his weekly podcast. It was just on the heels of National Cannoli Month and Jasper was still on a cannoli high! During the entire month of September, Jasper was on a mission to spread his love of the cannoli by hosting events at his restaurant, going on local TV and radio shows, as well as holding a cannoli recipe contest for his guests. The grand prize you ask? Well, cannoli’s for a year of course! Oh, and did we mention that Jasper’s also displays the world’s most expensive cannoli, designed by cake designer Cary Iennaccaro? It’s true, and the value is over $26,000. It features an antique diamond necklace from Tom Tivol Jewelers. Now that is one dazzling cannoli!

So naturally,  it comes to no surprise that while we were on the show, Jasper challenged us to create a Cannoli Casserole! We were nervous about creating a cannoli casserole for a man who loves the cannoli so, but we accepted the challenge and think he will be proud of the end result.

We walked into the challenge knowing that we needed to capture all the flavors of the classic cannoli, but still work within our beloved 9 x 13 inch casserole dish. We made certain to have all the traditional ingredients present and accounted for, but also switch it up a bit (as we like to do) to make this version our own. You’ll see that we replaced the crunchy cannoli outer shell with a scrumptious chocolate chip cookie base, infused with traditional cannoli flavors of orange, chocolate, and ricotta cheese. Then, we perfected our casserole-friendly cannoli by adding a sweetened ricotta cheese mixture on top, with toasted almonds and Maraschino cherries – super tasty and easy to whip up!

Challenge complete.



cookie bar


CQ Cannoli Bars

  • 4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened at room temperature
  • 1/2 cup whole-milk ricotta, at room temperature
  • 2 cups granulated sugar
  • 2 teaspoons finely grated orange zest
  • 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • 2 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 1 1/2 cups chocolate chips
  • 1 recipe Cannoli Cream (see recipe below)
  • 5 maraschino cherries (more if you love’em)
  • ½ cup sliced almonds, toasted
  1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees F.  Spray a 9×13-inch baking pan with nonstick cooking spray and set aside.
  2. In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking soda, and salt. Set aside.
  3. In the bowl of a stand mixer, beat the butter and ricotta on medium-high speed until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Add the sugar, orange zest, and vanilla; beat until blended, about 2 minutes. Scrape down the sides of the bowl. On medium speed, add the egg and beat until blended. On low speed, add the flour until mixture comes together. Pour in the chocolate chips and continue mixing until just incorporated.
  4. Pour cookie dough into the prepared pan, smoothing the top with the spatula
  5. Bake cookie bars for 45 minutes or until the top of the bars are light golden brown and the edges start to pull away from the pan
  6. Allow bars to cool completely
  7. Frost the top of the cookie bars with the cannoli cream (recipe follows)
  8. Top with cherries and toasted almonds 

CQ Cannoli Cream

  • 3 cups whole-milk ricotta cheese
  • 1 cup confectioners’ sugar
  • 1 tablespoon orange zest
  • 2 ounces chocolate chips
  1. In a large bowl, whisk together the ricotta cheese, confectioners’ sugar, and orange zest – until smooth.
  2. Stir in chocolate chips until incorporated evenly into cream



Chef Jasper J. Mirabile Jr. of Jasper’s commands the helm of his family’s 59-year-old restaurant, consistently rated one of Kansas City’s best Italian restaurants. In addition to running the restaurant with his brother, Mirabile is a culinary instructor, founding member of Slow Food Kansas City and a national board member of the American Institute of Wine and Food. He hosts many famous chefs on his weekly radio show Live! From Jasper’s Kitchen on KCMO 710 AM and 103.7 FM, authored two cookbooks and sells a line of dressings and sauces.

October 24, 2013

Pumpkin, Butternut Squash and Sage Soup

by Crystal Cook

pumpkin shot final

There is something magical that happens in the fall: pumpkin-flavored foods are suddenly everywhere you turn. There are pumpkin spiced lattes, pumpkin breads, pumpkin beer, and hold on…there are even pumpkin flavored pop tarts!  To all of those things, I say: yes please! I love fall for this pumpkin flavor explosion, so I decided that I wanted to cook something that celebrates the pumpkin in all its natural glory. Behold the glorious Pumpkin, Butternut Squash and Sage Soup, served in a pumpkin bowl of course!

Typical me, I always seem to make things a lot harder than they need to be, so just know that this soup is delicious even without all the bells and whistles (but hello! sage oil and homemade crème fraîche) so it is up to you how crazy you want to get (that goes for the pumpkin bowls too)! But if you want to go all out (and trust me it is worth it!) then know there is some prep involved.

As seen in the previous two posts, the first thing I did was make my crème fraîche and sage oil the day before. This garnish is optional, and you can always buy the prepared product at the store if you don’t want to make it from scratch. I promise I won’t tell.

Now onto pulling out all my soup ingredients! Pie pumpkin, butternut squash, olive oil, vegetable oil, unsalted butter, onions, fresh sage, shallots, garlic, chicken broth, Salt and freshly ground black pepper. Are you hungry yet? You should be.

Ingredient shot

Cut pumpkin in half to seed pumpkin, then cut each half in half again (so your pumpkin is now quartered). Rub flesh with olive oil, salt and pepper. Peel butternut squash and cut in half to remove seeds. Cube squash into about 1-2 inch pieces, toss pieces in olive oil and salt and pepper. Bake each on a baking sheet lined with foil for 30 minutes. Set aside to cool.

roasting veggie Collage

Melt 6 tbsp. of the butter in a heavy stockpot over medium heat. Cook onions, garlic and 1 cup of the shallots in butter until translucent about 15-20 minutes. Meanwhile, scrape flesh from pumpkin (I used a melon scoop to do this) and add to the onion mixture. Also add the butternut squash. Cook for about 5 minutes.

saute onion garlic shallots Collage

Add 6 cups chicken stock, 1 tablespoon chopped sage and salt to taste. Bring mixture to a boil and then simmer for 30 minutes.

squash broth sage salt Collage

If you decided to make pumpkin bowls, here is how I did it, but remember this step is completely optional (but completely adorable). When the soup is simmering, it is a perfect time to get these made! I chose a few smaller pie pumpkins than the size of what we use in the soup recipe – they were more around 2-1/2 lbs instead of 5. I guess you could do 5 pound pumpkins, but you had better be really hungry! All you have to do is cut off the tops of the pumpkin or cut a large circle around the stem of each pumpkin. Remove the lid and scoop out the seeds and fibers. I then coated the inside flesh and outside of the pumpkin with olive oil and then seasoned with salt and pepper. Place the pumpkins and lids on a baking sheet cover with foil and roast in a 350 degree oven for about 35 minutes.

bowl Collage

Using a large measuring cup take batches of soup and purée soup in a blender or food processor until smooth, then return to pot. Repeat as necessary. It is ok to have some chunky pieces. I actually enjoy that texture in the soup!

Puree Collage

Take the remaining ¼ cup of shallots and the 20 sage leaves and fry in 1 cup vegetable oil until crisp (you will see the shallots turn a nice golden color). Drain on paper towels.

fry sage and shallots

Now that your soup is done, let the garnish games begin.  I promise each one counts! First drizzle on some of the sage oil. Just look how lovely that green color is! The drizzle with crème fraîche, and finish with the crispy shallots and 2-3 sage leaves.

Garnish Collage

Now celebrate fall with your loved ones!

Final pumpkin 2

Pumpkin Bowls: (See method in post)

4 or how ever many small baking pie pumpkins you want to make – up to 2.5 pounds each
Olive Oil
Kosher salt & Cracked black pepper

Pumpkin, Butternut Squash and Sage Soup

Serves 8

1 small (about 5 lbs.) pie pumpkin, cut in half then quartered
1 medium butternut squash, peeled, seeds removed, cubed
4 -5 tbsp. olive oil for roasting pumpkins and squash
6 tbsp. unsalted butter
2 medium onions, finely chopped
1 tablespoon fresh sage leaves, chopped + 20 sage leaves for garnish
1 1/4 cups diced shallots, divided
3 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
6 cups chicken broth
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 cup vegetable oil
Sage Oil for Garnish (optional)
Crème fraîche for Garnish (optional)

  1. Preheat oven to 350°.
  2. Cut pumpkin in half to seed pumpkin, then quarter. Rub flesh with olive oil, salt and pepper. Peel butternut squash and cut in half to remove seeds. Cube squash into 1-inch pieces, toss pieces in olive oil and salt and pepper. Bake each on a baking sheet lined with foil for 30 minutes. Set aside to cool.
  3. Melt 6 tbsp. of the butter in a heavy stockpot over medium heat. Cook onions, garlic and 1 cup of the shallots in butter until translucent, about 15-20 minutes. Meanwhile, scrape flesh from pumpkin (I used a melon scoop) and add to the onion mixture. Also add butternut squash. Cook for about 5 minutes.
  4. Add 6 cups chicken stock, 1 tablespoon chopped sage and salt to taste. Bring mixture to a boil and then simmer for 30 minutes.
  5. Using a large measuring cup take batches of soup and purée in a blender or food processor until smooth, then return to pot. Repeat as necessary. It is ok to have some chunky pieces – I actually enjoy that texture in the soup!
  6. Take the remaining ¼ cup of shallots and the 20 sage leaves and fry in 1 cup vegetable oil until crisp. Drain on paper towels, then garnish each serving starting with sage oilcrème fraîche and then the crispy shallots and 2-3 sage leaves.
October 23, 2013

Make Your Garnish Count!

by Crystal Cook

Yesterday we started the prep for garnishes for our upcoming Pumpkin, Butternut Squash and Sage Soup post with learning how to prep crème fraîche, and as promised, today we will make a sage infused olive oil. (Remember folks, baby steps!) And don’t think I don’t know what y’all are thinking! You are thinking I MAY have gone overboard with the garnishes, but I truly believe every single one of the garnishes used in the soup recipe count! In fact, a garnish should always count. If it does not enhance the flavor of the dish, then simply don’t bother.  I am also a big fan of making sure that if I am creating a garnish from scratch, that I have plenty of ideas on how to use any leftover product. I hate to waste anything, so like with the crème fraîche, ideas for additional use are at the end of the post. Besides, when it is this good – you will find lots of ways to incorporate it!

Now let’s get back to the sage olive oil and the heart of this post.  Just think about it…a simple drizzle of good quality olive oil is both delicious and elegant, add a gorgeous herb like fresh sage – and you have magic! With that said, be sure to spring for a good quality olive oil for this recipe. It only has a few simple ingredients, is really easy to prepare and just requires a little forethought.

sage oil ingredients final

With that said, the first thing is to take a cup of good quality EVOO and place it in the fridge to chill for 1 hour. (That’s all the forethought you need folks!)  Once chilled, take about a cup of fresh sage leaves (leaves only) and place them in the bowl of a food processor. Pulse the leaves until they are very fine and coarse. With the motor running, slowly drizzle in the chilled olive oil.

Sage Oil Collage

When all of the olive oil has been incorporated and the mixture is a bright green color throughout, pass through a fine sieve and discard the solids. Finish off by seasoning with kosher salt to taste.

discard and salt

Store the olive oil in an airtight container of your choice and keep in the fridge for up to 3-5 days. We purposely made this in a small batch so that you can easily find uses for it. Aside from garnishing our pumpkin, butternut squash and sage soup, here are some other ways I love using this:

  • Drizzle this over your favorite mushroom pizza to make it sing! Bada Bing!
  • Dress up your favorite cheese or pumpkin ravioli by tossing it in this flavorful oil along with some shaved Parmesan cheese. And guess what? You can do the same with risotto!
  • Goes great on earthy creamed soups such as a cream of mushroom, butternut squash or potato leek soup.
  • Simply splash on roasted root vegetables to pick up a subtle hint of sage.
  • Rub it onto chicken or turkey breasts before cooking, and it will taste like Thanksgiving!

Note: The refrigeration will cause the oil to become a bit cloudy and slightly solid. It will return to its liquid state once removed from the refrigerator and placed on the counter for a few minutes. Give it a quick whisk before use.

March 29, 2013

Inside the Queens Studio with Melissa Guerra

by Sandy Pollock

I have to admit that I kinda wanna be Melissa Guerra. Melissa is such an inspiration to me for so many reason. First of all, she is a food wiz!  She lives and breathes the stuff and her knowledge in the realm of Latin foods is hard to match. Melissa has been a wonderful sounding board for me through the years and I really appreciate that.  She’s a dear friend of my family and an all around awesome person!

If you are in the San Antonio area you MUST go to her store in the Pearl Brewery. It is fantastic and the area is so super fun! It is not to be missed.


Melissa Guerra is an 8th generation Texan, born and raised on a working cattle ranch in South Texas. She is a self taught culinary expert and food historian, specializing in the food ways of the American continent, especially Texas regional, Mexican, and Latin American cuisine. Her cooking show, “The Texas Provincial Kitchen,” was produced in San Antonio at KLRN, and aired on PBS affiliates across the U.S.


Guerra has worked as a bilingual spokesperson for Kraft, Coca-Cola, Goya and Mazola. In 2005, Melissa Guerra served as a consultant, and was featured as a culinary expert on the PBS reality show “Texas Ranch House.” Guerra also teaches cooking courses and is often a featured public speaker.


Her second cookbook Dishes from the Wild Horse Desert: Norteño Cuisine of South Texas  was published in 2006 by John Wiley and Sons. Dishes from the Wild Horse Desert was a finalist for a James Beard Award in the category of Foods of the Americas, and for an International Association of Culinary Professionals award in the same category.


Since 2000, Melissa Guerra has owned and operated a website and storefront dedicated to providing top quality Latin American kitchenware and ingredients. Guerra’s newest store opened in  November, 2008 at the Pearl Brewery in San Antonio, the location of the new Culinary Institute of America’s Center for Foods of the Americas (focusing on Latin American cuisine)




Where you work:

Owns Melissa Guerra, a Latin American culinary store in San Antonio, Texas. Voted the #2 destination to visit by Lonely Plant Travel Guide in May 2011

How you got started:

Taught cooking lessons in my home

What is your “recipe” for success?

Still working on that…

If you weren’t an amazing Entrepreneur, Chef, Cookbook Author you would be…

A mom, and if that hadn’t worked out either a professional singer or a nun.

If your personality could be described as any casserole what would it be?

Not sure, but cheese would definitely be involved.

Your spouse called and his Aunt Edna is in town and coming over for dinner. Quick – what is your go to meal?

If turning off the porch lights and hiding didn’t work, our second option is that we always have frijoles and tortillas in the fridge, maybe Arroz con Pollo as we always seem to have a frozen chicken on hand as well. I would probably make a pie or cake too, which I would consume by myself after Aunt Edna left.

Name one kitchen disaster you’ve had.

I burned my toast about a month ago and set off the fire alarm. Four policemen showed up. They asked what I did for a living, and got a big kick when I told them I was a food professional. Aside from that, a kitchen  set caught fire once when taping a show. My home kitchen blew up during our remodeling, but technically, that had nothing to do with me cooking. Lost 500 sq ft of my house. My restaurant caught on fire too. Take your pick.

What dish from your childhood brings you the most comfort and why?

I am a potato chip FREAK! I love salty, crunchy stuff. Apparently, these snacks love me back as they permanently take up residence on my ever widening rear end.

If someone wrote a book about you, what would the title be

Head in the Fridge – A Psychoanalytical Case Study of A Low Functioning OCD Food Savant.  Not sure if this would be a book or a doctoral dissertation

March 15, 2013

Hey NYC! Chefday will help make it a great day!

by Sandy Pollock

New Yorkers are some lucky dogs!

Crystal and I were introduced to a couple of great food entrepreneurs, Laurent Moïsi and Agathe Roncey, the last time we were in New York City. They, along with a great team, have started a company called Chefday


The concept of the business is a food delivery service where you receive all the ingredients you need to prepare a meal. The ingredients have all been neatly pre-measured, cleaned, and are pretty much ready to go into your dish. Other than some light chopping, dinner really is almost on the table. Chefday is a great service for people who want to participate in the preparation of the food they eat, but need it to be made simple, fresh, and fool-proof. I had a great time making and eating my dish, which was the Stir Fried Green Bean Vermicelli. It was easy to prepare and fresh, spicy, and super flavorful.

I also think it is super cool that they have a how-to video for every dish they offer: However; I only used the printed instructions and found them to be clear and easy to follow.

Keep up the great work and best of luck to everyone at Chefday. If you live in NYC, give them a try!

Delivery bag

Delivery bag


Ingredients: So cute!

How to

How to: Clear to understand and the online video provided was very easy to understand!

Time to eat!

Time to eat! Very very flavorful!

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