The Doctor is IN

Keen Observations on Life … Whether You Need Them or Not

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Cook Along #1 : Jerk Chicken and Mango Chutney

This week we did something fun and different with our friends and family … I hosted an online cook along! It was so fun, even with our small group. We were small but mighty! On the menu was an old family favorite (mango chutney), with an amended protein (jerk chicken instead of roasted shrimp). Everything together was divine.

– 2 chicken breasts or 4-6 boneless thighs
– 1/2 tsp cinnamon
– 1/2 tsp salt
– 1/2 tsp pepper
– 1/2 tsp allspice
– 1 tsp thyme
– 1 Tbsp brown sugar
– 1 large garlic clove, minced
– 1/2 yellow onion, thinly sliced
– Juice of 1 lime

Marinate chicken in a bag (do this step in the morning), if they’re larger pieces, pound them a bit so they’ll cook more evenly. We cooked them together on the stovetop. I used an old iron skillet we refer to as “the utensil.” This is always tasty when grilled.

– 1 champagne mango, diced small
– 1 cucumber, seeded and diced small
– 1 red pepper, seeded and diced small
– 1/4 yellow onion, minced
– 1 garlic clove, minced
– 2 Tbsp olive oil
– 1 Tbsp rice wine vinegar
– 1/4 tsp salt
– 1/4 tsp pepper
– 1/4 tsp curry
– 1/2 tsp cilantro

Add all ingredients in a small bowl, stir and set aside as you begin cooking.

Cous cous
– 1 c Cous cous
– 1-1/4 c chicken stock
– 2 Tbsp olive oil
– Pinch of salt and pepper

Cook according to package directions.

– Butter lettuce, torn into bite size pieces
– 4 Tbsp olive oil
– 2 Tbsp rice wine vinegar
– 1 Tbsp agave
– 2 tsp lime juice
– 1/4 tsp cilantro
– 1/4 tsp salt
– 1/4 tsp pepper

Whisk all ingredients and dress the salad just before you serve it.

What fun activities do you do with your family and friends to pass the time?

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Mmm … Macaroons

I’ve never been a big coconut fan, but I love macaroons. That is to say, I love my macaroons, with the finely shaved coconut and dark chocolate chips. I bet you’ll like them, too.


4 egg whites
8 oz shredded, unsweetened coconut (I use Let’s Do Organic!)
3/4 cups granulated sugar
1 Tbsp water
2 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 tsp almond extract
1/4 tsp sea salt
1 cup dark chocolate chips (if you can find the
Ghirardelli mini dark chocolate chips, invest!)

  1. macaroonsCombine all ingredients in a large bowl; it’s a lot of coconut, so just be diligent about mixing it well. Let the mixture sit for 20 – 30 minutes so the coconut will soften a bit.
  2. Heat your oven to 350 degrees and prepare your cookie sheets with parchment paper.
  3. You can spoon your macaroons on to the cookie sheets, or if you wet your hands to keep the mixture from sticking, you can shape them a bit. They’re pretty dense, so they don’t really spread out while cooking. I can usually get about 2 dozen cookies, so depending on what size drops you use, you can vary considerably. My son would prefer if I just made him four. 🙂
  4. Bake your cookies for about 10 minutes at 350 degrees, then reduce the heat down to 325 and bake for another 15. Baking times, for whatever reason, vary in my convection oven, so it’s likely you’ll need to find your sweet spot, too. You’ll know it’s time to reduce the heat when the edges get a little golden, and you’ll know they’re done baking all together when they’re not opaque and gooey anymore. You don’t want them to be browned, crunchy cookies; they’re chewy and crisp on the outside, moist on the inside. “Done” tends to be a little more art than science with this cookie.
  5. Let them cool completely before you store them. We usually put them in a container the day we make them, but store them in the microwave uncovered overnight. On the second day we cover them, and they usually last about three or four days at most. My mom likes them cold out of the fridge. Go figure.

They also make a nice thank you gift, too.


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Orange Marmalade Vinaigrette

marmalade_vinaigretteI’m not a bottled salad dressing kind of gal (I’m also not a dairy gal), so I’m always on the hunt for yummy vinaigrette’s … or just making them up from all kinds of crazy combinations in my fridge. Tonight I marinated our grilled salmon with an orange marmalade-whiskey delight, and thought it would be nice to duplicate the scrumptious citrus. And holy healthy vegetables, I had to actually write down the result because it’s smack-ya-mama-good. For real.

Whisk them all together and chill for half an hour before serving. This made enough for three of us to dress our salads, plus a little extra. I think it will be easily scalable.


Easy {chicken} Empanadas

We try to eat dinner at Cuban Revolution in downtown Durham whenever we’ve got tickets to DPAC since it’s right across the street. It’s a great way to get our Cuban cuisine fix. But when we have long stretches between shows, I like to make quick empanadas at home. We all love them, and for the most part, they’re healthy. Some things, like these easy empanadas, taste best when you keep it simple. I tend to cook in ‘ish-measurements when making up recipes, so use this recipe as a guide … if the measurements work for you, keep them; if not, then adjust for your tastes.

0103040607Let’s get started!

Cook the chicken

We make a lot of homemade chicken soup and broth at our house, so the empanada chicken starts out with my usual routine:

  • 5 cups water
  • 3 – 4 chicken breasts (whatever chicken you don’t use for empanadas can be used later for soup, chicken salad, etc.)
  • 1 – 2 tsp sea salt (depending on how you’re able to handle sodium)
  • 1 tsp freshly ground black pepper
  1. Add all ingredients to a large pot and cover.
  2. Bring the pot to a rolling boil, then reduce heat to low.
  3. Simmer for 2 hours.


Season the chicken

  1. Remove chicken from broth and place on cutting board.
  2. Using two forks (or whatever method you have), shred the chicken.
  3. Place about 2 cups of chicken in a large mixing bowl; reserve the rest for use later (this makes great chicken soup or salad).
  4. Add about 1/3 c of the broth to the bowl (to moisten chicken); reserve the rest for later use.
  5. Add 1 tsp chili powder; 1 Tbsp dried cilantro; 1 minced garlic clove; 1/2 tsp onion powder; 1/2 – 1 tsp Adobo. Stir well, until all of the chicken is coated.


Now for the empanadas

When I have time, I make homemade pie crusts. When I don’t, I use Immaculate Baking Company pie shells. Whatever you choose, roll one pie shell into a single ball, then cut into eight equal sections.

  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
  2. Roll each section flat and place a heaping spoonful of shredded chicken in the middle.
  3. Fold over, half-moon style, and press the edges together with a fork.
  4. Once all eight of your empanadas are formed, brush the tops with a beaten egg (this makes a pretty crust when it’s baked).
  5. Bake for 7 – 9 minutes, or until golden brown. Remember, your chicken is already cooked; you’re just baking the pie shells.

We serve empanadas with cuban black beans and a salad, and sometimes brown rice. Mmm …


For the dairy fans:

My husband loves spinach and cheese empanadas, so I figured out a way to woo him. Instead of the shredded chicken filling, I make a spinach filling by roughly chopping 1 cup of fresh baby spinach, and mixing it with 1 Tbsp sour cream, a handful of Sargento 6-Italian shredded cheese; a pinch of freshly ground nutmeg, salt and pepper to taste, and 1/4 tsp chili powder. Follow the rest of the directions accordingly.


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Lucky Lemonade

Freshly squeezed lemonade is a yummy way to cap off hot, humid, southern days. When made right, the tartness is perfectly balanced with the sweetness. We’ve got a good setup at my house: my son squeezes the lemons, and I get the rest ready. We’ve been playing around with this recipe for a while now and have finally found its sweet spot, so to speak … enjoy!

–  8 cups water
–  1-1/2 cups freshly squeezed lemons (pulp is okay, but seeds are not)
–  1-3/4 cups granulated sugar

1.  Fill a pitcher with 8 cups of water.
2.  Add the sugar to the water, and go ahead and stir it together. The sugar will
dissolve by the time your lemon juice is ready.
3.  Add the lemon juice to the pitcher and stir together.
4.  Refrigerate and then enjoy. We like it served super cold.

FYI: This lemonade is a good mixer for lemon drops; just add vodka (we keep ours in the freezer). It’s also good if you add a sprig of mint, sans liquor.

1-3/4 cups granulated sugar

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All Together for Dinner

I forgot to post this when it ran on November 9, but thought if the post-Thanksgiving turkey leftover blues were pitching you over the edge, you might like a different flavor.

I read a call for family dinner stories and recipes a couple weeks ago from the News & Observer, and wrote in. I’m pretty certain that, aside from my obvious wit and charisma and kick-ass recipe, they liked the tagline I added to my salutation: “Kickin’ it old school as N&O subscribers.” Who could have ignored that clever closing?

I had no idea they were going to print it, and my M-I-L called from Charlotte, laughing, telling us that she was reading the paper after dinner (the day it ran, Nov. 9) and saw “The Sickles Family” and thought, I know the Sickles family … turns out the piece ran in the Charlotte and the Raleigh editions. 🙂

It’s cool to see my vetted pizza recipe on the N&O, with a callout link to the actual recipe. Check it out when you get a chance: All Together for Dinner.

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Vanilla Amaretto Cheesecake

If you know me, you know I’m a no-cheese person. Ever. But my husband loves cheesecake, and I wanted to find a good recipe to make him a little treat. I had in mind individual cheesecakes that could be frozen and taken out when the urge struck him, but I had to pick bits and pieces of different recipes to find something that sounded like it would work. I hope you enjoy this recipe for vanilla amaretto individual cheesecakes. The mister did!


  • 1-1/4 cups graham cracker crumbs (about 8 whole crackers)
  • 4 Tbsp confectioner’s sugar
  • 1/8 tsp salt
  • 1/8 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 5 Tbsp melted butter


  • 16 ounces (2 packages) Neuchâtel cheese
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/4 cup heavy cream
  • 3 large eggs
  • 2 tsp vanilla
  • 2 tsp amaretto (the good stuff, not an extract)


  1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
  2. To make the crust: stir together the crumbs, sugar, salt, cinnamon, and melted butter. Split it evenly between the cups in a muffin tin (this recipe makes about 24 small cheesecakes). Bake it for about 7 minutes, then take them out so they can cool off a bit.
  3. Turn the oven down to 325 degrees.
  4. To make the cheesecakes: mix the cheese and sugar until it’s creamy. Add in the remainder of the ingredients for the batter, and blend until it’s smooth. Spoon it into the muffin cups over the baked crusts. Top them with a sprinkle of nutmeg and bake for 14 – 16 minutes or until they set.
  5. Top with whipped cream and serve with strawberries if you like them. Enjoy! 🙂

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Ribbonless … but Cake-ful

Well, I didn’t win the Blue Ribbon … or the honorable mention … this year at the NC State Fair. Bummer. It’s the curse of the little blue-haired ladies again, I think.

Case in point, look at my cake:

.     .     .

And then look at the winning, Blue Ribbon cake:

.     .     .

Seriously? This cake must’ve been laced with crack. Well, there’s always 2012. My mother and my husband, and all of our family and friends who have enjoyed the cake testing rounds while I shook out the cobwebs for the last three years are already looking forward to next year’s preparation.

As for this year: am I bitter about the loss? Nah. But I am sending mental calories galore to the hips of the testers. 🙂

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Chicken Chili

Cooler temperatures drove me to fix a cold-weather dinner tonight, a family favorite: chicken chili. Man, oh, man, it’s wonderful. And paired with simple baking powder biscuits and a salad … it can’t be beat.


  • 1 can Hunt’s Fire Roasted Diced tomatoes
  • 1 can Hunt’s tomato paste
  • 3/4 cup good beer (a really wheaty beer, like Blue Moon or Shock Top works best)
  • 1/4 tsp Sirachi hot sauce
  • 1 chicken bouillon cube
  • 1 Tbsp brown sugar
  • 1/2 tsp paprika
  • 1/4 tsp dried cilantro
  • 1/2 yellow onion, diced finely
  • 1 red bell pepper, diced finely
  • 1 pound ground chicken
  • 1 pound chicken sweet italian sausage, minus the casings
  • 1 15 oz can dark red kidney beans
  • 1  Tbsp olive oil

Heat olive oil in a large bowl over medium heat; when hot, add chicken and sausage. Press the two meats into the pan to “iron out” the wrinkled, packaged “ground” appearance, and to mix them together (you don’t want a bite of chicken, then a bite of sausage).

2. While the chicken is cooking, add the cilantro, paprika and brown sugar. Cook the chicken for about ten minutes, sautéing until it’s done.

3. Add the remainder of the ingredients, in no particular order, and then stir it all together. Make sure you’ve mixed all of the tomato paste in with the rest of the ingredients (again, you don’t want to get a mouthful of just tomato paste).

4. Cover and turn the temperature down to low. Cook for an hour and a half.

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Homemade Pizza

Friday night is date night at my house. And though my husband, my son and I rotate from week to week figuring out what we’re going to do, one thing’s for certain: we have homemade pizza. As a no-dairy person, pizza has never been high on my list of priorities. But when we make it at home, the sky’s the limit. I shared my recipe with friends over the weekend and they reported that the sauce was the key to success.

For the crust:

  • 1 package quick rise yeast
  • 1 cup warm water
  • 2 Tbsp olive
  • 1 tsp brown sugar
  • ½ tsp salt
  • 2-1/4 + 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
  1. In a large bowl, combine the yeast and the warm water. Mix it with a fork (the water will be sort of cloudy, and I wait about a minute or two to add the rest of the ingredients), then add the water, oil, sugar and salt. Mix all of that in so that it looks sort of like a vinaigrette that won’t hold together. Add the 2-1/4 cups of flour and mix it together; if it seems like you can add the remaining ¼ cup, great; if not, that’s okay. I’m always able to add the full 2-1/2 cups. All of the flour won’t mix in with the fork, so you’ll need to use your hands to squeeze/knead it until all of the flour is held together (and there’s not loose flour in the bowl).
  2. Turn the lump of dough onto a floured surface (I use a large
    cutting board because I can move it around the kitchen if I need to, but your countertop would probably work, too), and let rest for about 10 minutes. Roll into the shape of your pan … I use the jelly roll pan, so I roll it into a vague rectangle, much smaller than the actual pan. Use your basting brush to spread olive oil all around the pan, then transfer the rolled dough. I use my fingers and gently spread it to reach the edges. So far, I haven’t had a crust break yet. Brush the edges with olive oil to make it cook “pretty” and keep
    from drying out.
  3. Add your toppings, and then bake for 15 – 18 minutes, making
    sure your cheese and toppings don’t get too crispy. You may need to adjust your baking time accordingly. For example, plain cheese pizza cooks quickly; garbage pizza takes a little extra time.

For the sauce:
I’m mostly an ‘ish kind of cook, so I make my sauce a little differently each time. The basics are always the same:

  • 1 15-ounce can of diced tomatoes, with liquid (I like the
    fire-roasted tomatoes)
  • 1 small can of tomato paste
  • 1 Tbsp brown sugar
  • 1 Tbsp balsamic vinegar (white wine is also good in lieu of)
  • 2 tsp dried oregano
  • ½ tsp dried basil
  • ½ tsp garlic powder
  • ½ tsp onion powder
  • ¼ tsp paprika (if you like it a little smoky)
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Mix it all up in the blender; if it’s too thick, add a Tbsp
of water (or more) until it’s the right consistency for you to spread.

~ ~ ~

For the boys I use the Sargento 6 cheese Italian blend, and I use a whole package on their 2/3 of the pizza. Our typical toppings are sweet Italian turkey sausage, chopped spinach, diced sweet bell peppers, sprinkling of crispy onions, asparagus, and mushrooms (mushrooms on the mister’s 1/3). My son’s 1/3 has just cheese, the mister’s 1/3 has cheese and garbage, and mine just has garbage. Leftover diced grilled or baked chicken is also a good topping.