A Tribute to A Woman Who Dared So Many To Be,To The Queen of All Daring Bakers, Lis

I never actually physically met Lisa Cifelli, or more known as Lis, a co founder of the Daring Bakers along with Ivonne, but it’s weird looking back on the far reaching influence she had on my own life.Lisa passed away suddenly  too soon this week. Her tenacity, spunkiness, and spirit caused a ripple effect in my life, formed through  my curiosity as I stepped gingerly into the Blogosphere in 2007. You see I wasn’t much of baker, that was my my late mothers thing. But being inspired by bloggers such as Tartelette, a few Wilton Classes, I found the then small group of the Daring Bakers, which was just starting to catch a giant wave . I signed up and began the far reaching adventure of baking, challenging , and perfecting my overall culinary skills. I always had the food bug, but the Daring Bakers instilled in me a healthy sense of competition,accomplishment , and wanting to tackle, the until then hit or miss,science of baking.  Month after month we posted  at the stroke of midnight, took creative license on recipe challenges from world renown authorities, photographed, commented,waited for  and plotted the next months announcement. It was a dizzying ride. The group grew and grew the world over. Many Daring Bakers became accomplished in the culinary fields branching into food styling, launching their own  culinary businesses, writing books,signing up for culinary school, going onto television, food writing, or growing their blogs into super blogs.

As with any good thing, one can outgrow it. The small niche group expanded to over the thousands, and those from  a close community can start to feel jaded, lost,overwhelmed,disinterested,non challenged, or their individual lives just got to be too much , along with the expense and growing waistbands.  I remember once on Twitter, some smart ass tweeted how he avoided Daring Baker posting days on Tastespotting and Twitter because it was everywhere. Have you ever seen a thousand links and  interpretations  of a Yule Log in a single day? It was a like a flash mob of gluten, sugar, butter , and spice.Today’s Daring Bakers is still going strong and barely recognizable to many of the older past members. Not to mention the off groups, and events that splintered off the Daring Bakers.

When Kelly informed us Lisa’s passing on Facebook, we reminisced and I remarked how refreshing it was to blog back then with a genuine passion and yearning for knowledge and sharing. Today’s  activity of blogging is a more slick , cynical  world that’s more consumed with PR, page views, followers,stolen content theft,expensive camera  apparatus ,advertising  fill rates,shares, link backs, the limelight, and seemingly less about having and sharing an authentic culinary experience.

I left the Daring Bakers after participating in 22 challenges. I suspect I’m missing a few.  That’s  basically two years of my life where I met many friends both on social media and in real life in locals all over the world ( Sweden, Austria,Italy,New York, Chicago, Toronto, the UK, San Francisco). I learned so much about myself, the science of baking, blogging, photography, culture, and what I really want in life through these challenges. I think the cookbook publishers, camera manufacturers, web hosting sites ,Amazon, culinary schools, King Arthur’s Flour,Kitchen Aid, and bakeware companies should give a nod to the late Lisa Cifelli for adding boost to their industries, and inspiring so many  people to Dare to Be. Without the challenges of  the Daring Bakers , I would never have become so emboldened to start my own catering business, write for Ebony Magazine, attend French Pastry School, meet fellow like minded strangers in locals across the world, and develop a confidence in my abilities. Thank you Lisa.  Aside from sharing some emails and random comments, you will never know the impact you’ve had on myself and countless others.

Next time you dust off your rolling pins, take out your cake pans, and preheat your oven in this ever increasing gluten, fat and sugar intolerant world, think of  feisty Lisa, the Daring Bakers, and the ripple  effect she and Ivonne caused in this pool of ganache we swim through called life. She welcomed and encouraged all culinary persuasions to interpret a challenge and share. We Daring Bakers didn’t always agree, but my how we rose to occasion. I remember when I emailed Lisa about leaving the group, she said the door was always open to come back.

Rest In Peace. You truly made a lasting impression in this world.

It was fun flashing back on these Daring Baker Posts I completed. These posts show many personal and culinary evolutions.I still use many of these recipes today. I just might attempt that Gingerbread House again this holiday season. Enjoy.

Bostini Creme Pie

Potato Bread Adaptations

My favorite post. The Yule Log and the Misunderstood Rabbit/Rat

Lemon Meringue Pie

Juila Child’s French Bread

Dorie Greenspans Perfect Party Cake

Cheesecake Pops

Opera Torte, My Second Favorite Post

Danish Braid or Wienerbrod

EclairsLavash CrackersPizza

Shuna Fish Lyndon’s Carmel Cake

Sweet and Savory Tuiles

Floureless Chocolate Cake and Adzuki Ice Cream

Lasagna From Scratch

Cheesecake , A Winner Till This Day

Strudel, Hosted by Yours Truly

Marshmallow Cookies

Vol Au Vents


Gingerbread Houses





Coco Cooks and Caters With The LG Intuition

Starting a business is not as hard as one thinks, and with catering, all I need besides my pots, pans, knives, and right hand assistant, is a reliable gadget. I have no money for sales and event coordinators, etc, so I have to wear many hats in executing events for Coco Cooks. A typical inquiry comes over via email from my website, I check my email, set up a time to talk, write-up a proposal, negotiate fine points, and show up.  With the LG Intuition it makes all so easy.  I can market my successes via  social media, reply in lightning speed to clients, save excel documents with costs on Polaris Office, take pretty good pictures on the fly, save recipes on my Evernote account,calculate, make lists, send texts to staff about event details, run credit cards on Square,etc…. Get the drift? I think this is just the tip of the iceberg, and if I had the time I could find countless more uses.

This week I had the opportunity to cater for another Consul General, that’s two Consul General clients now. This was a sit down dinner for 15 people in a fabulous duplex penthouse overlooking the lake and city of Chicago. Being a start-up , I rely on my right hand, my cousin Inda, and friends to help me out. And boy did they help out. After plating the main the main course we had ourselves a high-five behind the kitchen doors. It’s a great feeling to hire my friends and give them new experiences as we all in the process of reinventing ourselves. It’s this spirit that attracted our latest client  to us. They liked not only our food, but self-starting  spirit, and team work.All that positive energy shows in our food.  I hope you had a blessed Thanksgiving. I know I did.

Here was the Menu for the latest event.

The winner of the Walmart Give away is….

Nicole Larsen

Her biggest mishap was:

My biggest mishap was not having all the food done at the same time. So now, I do as much preparation that I possibly can the night before and I also have everything (cans, bowls, etc) set out for the next day!

Disclosure: I am participating in the Verizon Wireless Midwest Savvy Gourmets program and have been provided with a wireless device and six months of service in exchange for my honest opinions about the product.

New Year and New Way of Cooking… Farro with Turkey Kale Leeks Sun Dried Tomatoes

So I did it! For a while I’ve been eying the newly svelte Jennifer Hudson pitching for Weight Watchers. I resisted.I hate counting calories and points just seemed so complicated.  I mean I love food and I love to cook. Therefore I hate diets.A few years ago I tried a home delivery service and the food was awful. I didn’t want to go on some other well-known programs because I hate processed foods. Weight Watchers seemed to be the only solution, where I could cook and have fun developing recipes. Most of you know I’m pretty much an open book and will share my joys and sorrows . Not being ashamed of the fact of what  I was doing, I was surprised when many of my friends contacted be both publicly and off-line that they have had tremendous success with Weight Watchers. One food blogger friend revealed to me she lost 100 lbs in a year. All the success stories I heard motivated me more , as this seemed actually doable, and without depriving myself of anything.

So naturally I’m cutting back on fat, not entirely, as I believe fat carries flavor, but healthy fats and in moderation.I’m playing around with adding bulk and volume to my foods off the Power Foods list ( foods low in points that give you more fuel throughout the day). When I’m hungry mid day I reach for a banana, which surprisingly has zero points to satisfy both that sweet and creamy texture urge. So far so good, and on week 3 , I have lost over  5 lbs. The second week was challenging as we had several social functions with great food and alcohol, but I was able to indulge in moderation. Thank goodness for my Iphone app, where I plug-in foods and receive their values. Who knew a Screwdriver is the cocktail with the lowest points?

Sometimes I post some recipes to the community pages. The Farro with Turkey Kale and Sun dried Tomatoes was a very successful one that both Certain Someone and I enjoyed. I actually tea smoked my own turkey breast to use for the week and throw  it into several recipes. The smoking adding a depth of flavor. For this recipe you can use regular roasted , cooked turkey breast.

Farro with Turkey Kale Leeks sun-dried Tomatoes
Recipe type: entree
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
Serves: 4
A hearty filling stir fry with the grain of Farro.
  • 1 pound(s) cooked turkey breast
  • 1 cup(s) cooked leek(s)
  • 1 cup(s) Kale
  • 2 cup(s) sun-dried tomatoes (without oil)
  • 2 cup(s) cooked farro
  • 1 tsp sea salt
  • 1 tsp black pepper
  1. Boil Farro to package instructions and reserve
  2. Drain Julienne your Kale.
  3. Weigh and chop your turkey breast, tomatoes.
  4. In a non stick pan spray your non stick cooking oil.
  5. Add your leeks and kale and stir fry for a few minutes on med high
  6. Add your tomatoes and continue to stir and cook over med high heat.
  7. Vegetables should start to caramelize a bit.
  8. Add the turkey. Continue to cook.
  9. Lastly add the cooked Farro and stir fry for a few more minutes .
  10. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
9 Weight Watcher points

The winner of the Creminelli giveaway  is Jen from  The Whole Kitchen. Congratulations Jen!


Paccheri with Peas & Barese Sausage Al Forno and the Value of Blogger Friends

It’s raining on this first day of spring. Not a cleansing healing  rain , but a gloomy one to me anyway. It’s like the world is crying. Japan, Wars both declared and not, The Middle East, unemployment, and even this cutie Knut who


decided to pack it in and leave us. Life is hard and no ever promised it would be easy. But our dreams , determination, faith and friends sustain us through the journey.When you don’t have those, you have nothing. I’ve been thinking of my friends, both real and virtual. Also how lucky I am to have many of virtual friends turn into real friends. They inspire , help, and lend a a shoulder to you in your hour of need. I’ve been thinking about Jeanne who lost her  beloved father this week, Marie who always has an encouraging word  , Barbara who has turned from more than  a web developer to a friend. There are many more friends real and virtual out there who are always there with tips, leads, and humor. These friends bring comfort to my life. You can say I’m in a contemplative mood these days.But I’m lucky to have my circle.

A good dish always soothes a troubled soul. Marie took me to Caputo’s at long last. Any ennui I felt lately vanished as we roamed the cheese room, and pasta aisles.Nobody knows Italian American food like Marie. She directed me to to the right purchases with advice on how to prepare the items.

So this Sunday as I wait for my Certain Someone to come back home from a business trip abroad, I  cobbled together this rich and comforting dish baked al forno ( in the oven). Using fresh Paccheri ( a large rigatoni) and Barese sausage ( small narrow sausage flavored with garlic and parsley, no fennel) simmered in white wine and finished off in the oven. Lots of cheese and heavy cream, lightly seasoned with nutmeg, and peas for spring.

Before the recipe I want to announce the winner of the $100 giveaway from US Wellness Meats. Congratulations Cheryl Lee Ferguson.I will email you with instructions to claim your prize.


Paccheri with Peas & Barese Sausage Al Forno

  • 1 package of fresh Paccheri or Rigatoni
  • 2 cups shredded Mozzarella
  • 3/4 lb Barese sausage
  • 1/2 cup white wine
  • 1 cup frozen peas
  • 1 qt heavy cream
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1/2 cup shaved Parmesan
  • salt to taste
  • pepper to taste
  • grated nutmeg
  1. Preheat oven to 425 F.
  2. Boil salted water for pasta.
  3. In a skillet simmer your Barese until gray in color and almost done.
  4. Place sausages  on a baking sheet and brown in oven until done ( about 10 minutes ). Cut into small bite size pieces.
  5. Reduce oven temperature to 350 F.
  6. Boil Paccheri until al dente ( about 6 minutes). Remove from heat and drain.
  7. In a bowl beat the three eggs with heavy cream. Add salt and pepper. Season generously  but carefully as cream dishes diminish salt in flavor.
  8. In a another large bowl combine drained pasta, cream and egg mixture, Mozzarella Cheese  and chopped sausage.
  9. Place combined mixture in a baking dish or casserole . Top with shaved Parmesan,   a sprinkle of grated nutmeg,salt and pepper.
  10. Bake at 350 for approx 45 minutes to 1 hour. The cream egg mixture should not run if pierced with fork and the dish should be bubbling.


Time to Move Forward and Onwards…and Why I Really Blog

My regular readers will know postings have been pretty sparse since the new year began. The reason being there was a lot of change going on and to sum it up, I was just exhausted. My longtime boss and mentor had resigned after over 40 years and in entered a new one. As with such things they have their own agenda and all one can do is their best, even if they haven’t been given the tools they needed for a long time to do it. So you plug along in a job essentially set up for failure and do your best to placate and partner with the angry loyal clients who have been given the short end of the proverbial stick along with you.

Yesterday was my last day of working for a much beloved company. You always wonder and fear when it will happen , and one day it does.As I faced the cold new boss and the HR manager , who seems to be doing  this chore more and more these days, I felt nothing but cold emptiness. I didn’t say a word and just took the manila envelope proffered to me , held my head high and walked out of there forever. All I cared about was the pictures of my mother , Certain Someone, and my scrap books and photos of my dear colleagues , many who are gone, that worked and toiled along with me to make my accounts successful and viable. Current friends and colleagues were shocked with disbelief as they let three of us go that afternoon. I have never felt more loved than I did yesterday afternoon and evening. When you are made to feel invisible and worthless by management, its nice to know others appreciated  and valued you, as I valued and loved  them. Even the  security guard was visibly upset who greeted me every day since 1998.

A few weeks ago a colleague and friend of Certain Someone asked him why I blog, cook, and dabble in all sorts of things. Certain Someone explained how I had a job that treated me and my accounts like crap, but I stayed  on to pay the bills and believed things would get better. My release came at night when I could explore my creativity through my cooking  and writing, and now soap making. It was in these areas I found value , worth,  happiness , and most important  MYSELF. Don’t get me wrong. I admire and respect the company  that took a chance on me many years ago. It was an honor to work for legends in Black America. I have learned so much there. The negative change  really didn’t occur until a major management shake up years ago. From then things were never the same for all of us, as with the rest of corporate America, along with the challenges of reviving a brand that was dated and lacking innovation.

So now I sit here typing this with sadness, but a sense of relief. As Certain Someone pointed out I haven’t been happy for a long time with my treatment, and they underpaid and used me.  Its time to find something I love and will be paid my worth. I can now focus on the things that I couldn’t working a 9 to 5. I will still seek that 9 to 5 , but one that values me and recognizes my worth. My mother always said throughout her short life that there  was no greater  feeling than being your own boss. I see the young professionals now moving on to a new company every few years. One no longer stays and makes a career or really create anything of lasting value. Loyalty to employees and employers is dying trait. If it’s one thing I learned is  this:

  • You can be up today and down tomorrow, and vice versa. Know that!
  • Its just a title / job and you are as disposable as anyone else.
  • It’s not your company and know that.
  • Give your best and  and observe to the signs. When you are not happy , it’s time to move on.
  • Do what you love  and brings joy and the opportunities will follow.
  • They can take your job, but they cant take the God Given  talents and drive that lies within you.