Today I introduce everyone to Anita Strange, known to anyone close to her as “Nita”
She is my fiancé’s aunt, and I have bonded with her before over [insert drum roll here] fried chicken at Chandler’s Deli, a Knoxville favorite of mine. Yes, we both love food, and today I’d like you to get to know her a little more. She is a teacher from Morristown, TN. In addition to her passion to teach, she loves to cook and treat herself! She is a lover of comfort food (who isn’t?) and a fan of the crockpot, which I can definitely relate to.
So, who would you consider as a culinary influence?
I love to watch the Food Network, and I enjoy several of the programs and chefs on that station. I like Giada de Laurentis because you can hear the sounds of her amazing Italian cooking so well. I like Guy Fieri because his “Triple D” show [now on Netflix] and that it represents American restaurants so well. And I enjoy Ina Garten because her cooking techniques are wonderful!
I love the Food Network as well! I’ve learned about so many food machines and neat gadgets because of some of those shows. So tell us, what is your favorite thing to cook with?
The crockpot! It has been essential in my life as a teacher. You can put in all the ingredients in the morning, and when you get home you have a great meal!
I agree! I use the crockpot a lot, and it is a time saver. And its easy clean up! I remember my mom using hers all of the time. Who was it that taught you the ways of the kitchen?
My mom started teaching me when I was a little girl. The first lesson: you must cook according to color; a brown meat, a white starch, a green vegetable. Ha! But my dad was a real “gourmand” who taught me a lot, too.
That’s awesome! I’ve heard lots of stories about your dad (Heath’s grandfather), but I didn’t know he was a cook! That’s awesome. Do you have any memories of you father cooking with you?
When I was a teen, my dad taught me how to cook spaghetti sauce with ground beef and how to break up the ground beef just so with a fork. Later on, when I was grown, I wrote about that experience in a letter to him on Father’s Day, and he carried the letter in his wallet for years!
That’s really sweet. I think that food can really bring people together, as well as create memories we hold dear forever. And I think that is really special your dad cherished that memory as much as you did!
What is your guilty pleasure?
chocolate! I have to have some chocolate every now and then in some form to survive. But I have to add, the staple of my life is…potatoes! I will eat potatoes in any form; fried, mashed, creamed, baked, au gratin, scalloped. If there are no potatoes, I don’t feel like I’ve really eaten!
What is your absolute favorite meal?
It’s according to my mood. If I am feeling healthy, I like grilled chicken and vegetables. If I am feeling in a vacation mood, I like seafood as in lobster and shrimp. If I feel decadent or indulgent, I like filet mignon and baked potato.
My, all of that sounds so tasty. That’s making me hungry as we speak! In addition to your favorite meal, what was the best dessert you ever had?
Gary and I made a pumpkin cheesecake for Thanksgiving one year. We didn’t know how it would turn out, but it was a delicious surprise! Really, anything cinnamon, pungent and comforting.
Anita and Gary’s Pumpkin Cheesecake
1 package spice cake mix
1/2 cup melted butter
3 packages softened cream cheese (8 oz. each)
1 can sweetened condensed milk (14 oz.)
1 can solid packed pumpkin (16 oz.)
1 tbsp. pumpkin pie spice
1 package sliced almonds ( 2 1/2 oz.)
2 cups chilled whipping cream
1/4 cup sugar
Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
Crust: Combine cake mix and melted butter in a large bowl.Press into bottom of ungreased 10-inch springform pan.
Filling: Combine cream cheese and condensed milk in large bowl. Beat with electric mixer at high speed for 2 minutes. Add pumpkin, eggs, and spice. Beat at high speed for 1 minute. Pour over prepared crust. Bake at 375 for 65 to 70 minutes or until set.Cool completely on rack. Refrigerate for 2 hours. Loosen cake from sides of pan, then remove sides of pan.
Topping: Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Toast almonds by spreading on a baking sheet and baking at 300 for 4-5 minutes. Cool completely. Beat whipping cream in a medium bowl until soft peaks form. Gradually add sugar, continuing to beat until stiff peaks form. Spread over top of chilled cake.Garnish with toasted almonds. Refrigerate until ready to serve.
Yield: 8-12 servings
*Note from Anita: The cheese part and the spice cake part all kind of rise together and bake, as I remember. It was very good. I adore cheesecake!