Valentine’s Day is over, hooray! We made it! Now it’s time to do some real celebrating! In honor of Mardi Gras and the recent Saints victory, I decided to get in the spirit of New Orleans and make a dish that is commonly found down in the Big Easy. GUMBO!

For those of us Northerners unfamiliar with the dish, gumbo has the consistency of a soup or stew. It is associated with Louisiana but found all over the south.  Gumbo is sometimes spicy, sometimes mild, depending on the ingredients you include. All gumbos start out with a basic stock and then a thickener is added, typically making a roux. I am told that other things have historically been used to thicken it up. But since this was my first time experimenting with this recipe, I didn’t want to mess around. I stuck with a roux. Other gumbo ingredients include: the “Holy Trinity” of the south: celery, bell peppers, and onions; Okra, a vegetable of African origin; and a combination of chicken, sausage, duck, shellfish, etc.

I found so many amazing gumbo recipes online, including several amazing Emeril Lagasse recipes that I will absolutely be experimenting with in the future. Emeril’s recipes for duck gumbo look out of this world!!! But I decided to go with a Paula Deen recipe for a few reasons. First, she incorporated three fabulous yet basic gumbo ingredients: chicken, sausage, and shrimp. Second, being from the Northeast, fresh okra is nearly impossible to find around here – especially in February. This recipe called for frozen okra, which is doable. Third, though this recipe required a large chunk of my time (about 4 hours since I didn’t know what I was doing), this was still less than the time required by similar recipes. 

I encountered some complications with this recipe. I couldn’t find andouille sausage at the grocery store and there was no way had I time to make it myself from scratch.  The butcher recommended I use kielbasa, a mild Polish sausage that is commonly incorporated into gumbo.  But I wanted a little bit of spice and a more potent smoky flavor so I decided to use chorizo sausage instead.  (And boy, did it cost me a penny. But it was well worth it!)

Other than that, everything went surprisingly smoothly when cooking this dish! I loved loved loved spending the afternoon at the stove, like a real southern lady on a Sunday making a hearty dish straight from her soul. Making my first roux was, admittedly, a very rewarding experience. I made sure to stir it slowly and continuously as the recipe calls for, for at least 10 minutes or maybe more, until it turned into a chocolate brown color. Once you have this step down, its smooth sailing from there. Just follow the instructions and prepare yourself for a absolutely delicious fairytale feast! Trust me, this recipe is amazing and you’re going to love it!
Chicken, Sausage, and Shrimp Gumbo  
By Paula Deen


  • 3 large boneless skinless chicken breast halves
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1/4 cup vegetable oil
  • 1 pound smoked sausage, cut into 1/4-inch slices
  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 5 tablespoons margarine
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 8 cloves garlic minced
  • 1 green bell pepper, seeded and chopped
  • 3 stalks celery chopped
  • 1/4 cup Worcestershire sauce
  • 1/4 bunch flat leaf parsley, stems and leaves, coarsely chopped, plus chopped leaves for garnish
  • 4 cups hot water
  • 5 beef bouillon cubes
  • 1 (14-ounce can) stewed tomatoes with juice
  • 2 cups frozen sliced okra
  • 4 green onions, sliced, white and green parts
  • 1/2 pound small shrimp, peeled, deveined and cooked


Season the chicken with salt and pepper. Heat the oil in a heavy bottomed Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Cook the chicken until browned on both sides and remove. Add the sausage and cook until browned, then remove. 

Sprinkle the flour over the oil, add 2 tablespoons of margarine and cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until brown, about 10 minutes. Let the roux cool.

Return the Dutch oven to low heat and melt the remaining 3 tablespoons margarine. Add the onion, garlic, green pepper and celery and cook for 10 minutes. Add Worcestershire sauce, salt and pepper, to taste and the 1/4 bunch parsley. 

Cook, while stirring frequently, for 10 minutes. Add 4 cups hot water and bouillon cubes, whisking constantly. Add the chicken and sausage. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat, cover, and simmer for 45 minutes. Add tomatoes and okra. Cover and simmer for 1 hour. Just before serving add the green onions, shrimp and chopped parsley.

This dish tastes amazing on its own. But it is commonly served over steamed white rice. The dish gets more flavorful over time, so let it sit!


If you’re are looking to get a diamond instead of a rose this Valentine’s Day and need a little something to get your man to pop the magic question, look no further. “Engagement Chicken” is here to help!

This simple recipe, originally called Roast Chicken with Lemons, was originally published in a cookbook called Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking by Marcella Hazan. It later appeared in Glamour Magazine after fashion editor and foodie Kimberly Bonnell and her staffers prepared it for their boyfriends, who soon thereafter each popped the magic question and became husbands. 

As the legend goes, this chicken is so succulent and satisfying it will bring any man to his knees and have him begging for your hand. Since appearing in Glamour, the magazine has received countless letters from those who say the recipe worked for them. Though this recipe was intended to be a secret weapon recipe for those of us who were hoping to get him to propose, it has certainly made its rounds on the internet. Try googling engagement chicken and 2.7 million search results with the recipe and success stories will come up.  Glamour reader Laura Wheeler supposedly made this recipe for her boyfriend and it got him to pop the question. Radio personality Howard Stern even is said to have popped the question to his girlfriend shortly after she made this chicken.

While I had my doubts about the recipe and the myth, it was obvious to me why this chicken would put marriage on a man’s mind. The prepared platter looks like something out of a 1950s sitcom. Imagine Donna Reed in a flawless dress, high kitten heels and apron, red lipstick applied and hair perfectly coiffed. She greets her husband at the door with the kind of kiss that only happens in the movies, complete with a slight head tilt and leg gently lifting off of the ground. What awaits her king after his hard day of work is the dinner she slaved over all day just for him: a perfectly roasted whole lemon chicken on a porcelain platter. Who wouldn’t want to come home to someone like that? Put this image into any man’s mind and he’ll propose.

So, I decided to give it a whirl for some of my dearest friends and family members yearning to test the myth, whose dreams of princess cut diamonds and fairytale fantasy weddings have been becoming more and more frequent. And while I can’t say this chicken has worked for me (if I did, it would be called “Miracle Chicken”)  if the way to a man’s heart is truly through his stomach then it couldn’t hurt for me to give it a try.

I will admit that the finished product almost resembled a rotisserie chicken that one can easily buy at Sam’s Club or their local grocery store to substitute for a real engagement chicken. But by making the chicken from scratch yourself, you not only have the power control your ingredients, you also have the power to control your fate.  

The results were favorable – at least as far as taste is concerned. And I am pleased to say that Donna Reed was a pretty and intelligent lady with a secret: the chicken actually doesn’t take all day to make, it just looks that way. So you have time to do you own thing while he thinks you’re doing something for him. The recipe is very simple to make and the result is a juicy, tender, healthy and flavorful chicken. And hopefully, a ring. 

Engagement Chicken

1 whole chicken (approx. 3 lb.)

2 medium lemons

Fresh lemon juice (1/2 cup)

Kosher or sea salt

Ground black pepper

Place rack in upper third of oven and preheat to 400 degrees. Wash chicken inside and out with cold water, remove the giblets, then let the chicken drain, cavity down, in a colander until it reaches room temp (about 15 minutes). Pat dry with paper towels. 
Pour lemon juice all over the chicken (inside and outside). Season with salt and pepper. Prick the whole lemons three times with a fork and place deep inside the cavity. (Tip: If lemons are hard, roll on counter-top with your palm to get juices flowing.) 
Place the bird breast-side down on a rack in a roasting pan, lower heat to 350 degrees and bake uncovered for 15 minutes. Remove from oven and turn it breast-side up (use wooden spoons!); return it to oven for 35 minutes more. Test for doneness—a meat thermometer inserted in the thigh should read 180 degrees, or juices should run clear when chicken is pricked with a fork. Continue baking if necessary. Let chicken cool for a few minutes before carving. Serve with juices.


As a personal touch, try adding vegetables to the dish. I had red skinned and Yukon gold potatoes at home, so I cut them up along with celery and carrots. I seasoned them with salt and pepper and tossed them with a few tablespoons of olive oil before I added them to the pan. Green beans and roasted red potatoes would also work nicely, as does asparagus. 

Another technique, commonly used by my Grandpa Augello (a fantastic classic Italian chef and the best in my opinion) is to toss your vegetables in tomato sauce and coat the bottom of the roasting pan with the sauce before you make the chicken.

If you want a simple dessert to accompany your engagement chicken, serve some chocolate covered strawberries. 

“The joys of the table are superior to all other pleasures, notable those of personal adornment, of drinking and of love, and those procured by perfumes and by music.” ~ Chamseddine Mohaed El Hassan El Baghadi, 1226

If you’re looking for romance, a little effort may go a long way. Chicken is not associated with aphrodisiac qualities, so you’ll have to improvise and add some other little seductive touches. 

Don’t forget forget to serve the chicken on an attractive serving platter. As explained above, this may help to conjure up images of being the perfect wife in your man’s mind so hopefully a lightbulb will go off and he’ll realize he needs to marry you now. 

As this chicken is meant to mark the special occasion of the prompting of your engagement, set a romantic mood by setting a table. This dish isn’t meant to be enjoyed on a couch in front of a television or eaten out of the pan it was cooked in while standing over the counter. Use a linen tablecloth (you can always borrow one from your mothers or grandmothers girls!).  

Get out the fine china if you have any, as well as your best flatware. Silverware looks formal and works nicely. If you’re popping Champagne in hopes that he’ll pop the question, don’t forget your stemware. 

Dim the lights and bring out the candlesticks. Use unscented candles so that the only aroma in the dining area is the food. Fresh flowers are a nice touch and some would argue that a romantic tablescape cannot be complete without them.

Be ready with a romantic playlist on your iPod. Cleverly include your song together, something that reminds you of the first time you met, or music from the concert you both saw together.  If midnight soul is what you’re into, try some Sade, John Legend, Brian McKnight, or whatever your heart desires. A little country for your cowboy never hurts either. Think: Keith Urban, Making Memories of Us. Alan Jackson, Remember When. Josh Turner, No Rush. You get the hint.

And lastly, don’t forget the most important and beautiful part of the meal. Your smile. Enjoy yourself. Be happy. Whether the chicken morphs him into a husband or not, you’re lucky to have the moment and memory together. Shakespeare once said, “Love sought is good, but given unsought, is better.” So don’t stress if all doesn’t go as planned with your engagement chicken or you don’t have the perfect plates for your table. The chicken may have some magical powers but no three words have great power than “I love you.”  

 So here’s to you and your happy ending this Valentine’s Day! Enjoy!

Superbowl Sunday is supposedly the second biggest party weekend in the United States behind New Year’s Eve.  Some of us watch for the game. Some of us watch for the commercials. Some of us are simply there for the food – the wings, pizza, nachos, spinach and artichoke dip, deviled eggs, bowls of beef chili, pulled pork sandwiches potato skins. And who can forget those endless red plastic cups of beer?

But for all those hopefuls still holding steadfast to their New Year’s Resolutions, you probably aren’t going to feel good about yourself if you gorge on these things.  But let’s be honest, sometimes celery sticks and pretzel’s just don’t make the cut either. My answer: bruschetta.

Bruschetta is from the Italian verb “bruscare” which means “to roast over hot coals.” There are many variations on this simple and classic recipe with some people mixing in roasted red peppers, white beans, or artichoke hearts. Some people serve their bruschetta cold or room temperature. I personally like mine to be hot so that is how I wrote this recipe.  

If you are looking for a healthy snack to nosh on, try this classical and very simple bruschetta recipe.  It will help you save some calories and from feeling inadequate when you see Kim Kardashian cheering for her very own New Orleans Saint on the sidelines. But most importantly, it will be a treat to trick your taste buds into believing you’re eating something really rich and decadent. 

Simple Skinny SuperBruschetta 

4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 16 oz. can diced tomatoes drained (or 2 large chopped fresh)
Handful of chopped yellow onion
3 cloves garlic minced
Handful chopped fresh basil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

1 loaf of whole wheat French Baguette
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

Optional:  sliced fresh mozzarella

1) Slice the whole wheat baguette on a bias. Brush each piece lightly with extra virgin olive oil. Put under broiler until browned and crisp, about 2 minutes on each side. Remove and put to side.

2) Heat the 2 tbs of the extra virgin olive oil in a nonstick skillet on medium high. Add minced garlic and onions and saute until tender. Add tomatoes (if using fresh, make sure to remove seeds and juice) until heated through. Remove from heat. Mix in chopped basil. 

3) Top off toasted baguette slices with a spoonful of the tomato mixture. 

Optional: Top off each slice of bruschetta with a piece of fresh mozzarella.


Calling all sausage and pepper fans! Here’s a great spin on the classic pairing just in time for your superbowl party!  This easy recipe, courtesy of my sister Christina, is the perfect blend of spicy and savory. The richness of the creamcheese combined with the sausage is just heavenly. These stuffed sausage and peppers are sure to be a hit.

Superbowl Stuffed Sausage and Peppers

1 cup uncased sausage
1 package of reduced fat cream cheese
3/4 tablespoon of garlic salt
3 tablespoon grated cheese
1 teaspoon oregano
1 teaspoon basil
1/2 cup bread crumbs
1 tablespoon of olive oil
6 long Italian hot peppers cored and seeded 

1) Cook sausage and preheat oven to 350.

 2) In medium bowl, mix sausage, onion, cream cheese, garlic salt, cheese, oregano, bread crumbs, and olive oil.
3) Stuff peppers with mixture. Cook 20-25 mins until mix is brown and bubbly.