One class that I teach at Baylor is called Writing for Media Markets. It’s a writing class designed for business students, and I usually teach three of the 15 or so sections that are offered each semester. Close to the end of each semester, all the students taking that class, usually 225 or so, gather one evening in the Robert G. Packard Lecture Hall, a 297-seat auditorium where the namesake professor for years taught “Packard Physics,” a science class for non-science majors. (I taught an Introduction to Mass Communication class in that room one semester, and it was a bit intimidating to teach to that many students at one time.)
When the business students gather, their assignment that day is to listen to a guest speaker, take notes, ask questions and then leave and write a story – on deadline – about what the speaker said. It’s usually my job to line up the speaker for the event, and it’s one of my favorite things that I do each semester. The only parameter about the person I bring in is that she or he has to have an interesting story, and a connection to the fields of journalism or public relations is a plus. Some folks who have spoken to our group in the past include John Pluhowski, at that time vice president of corporate communications at eBay, who was a hit because he handed out eBay gift cards to students who asked good questions; Brett Cannon, head of media partnerships at South by Southwest; and Natalie Fletcher Pazera, who at the time was director of innovation at the Dallas Regional Chamber.
Our speaker this past semester was Rodney Hawkins, a former producer for CBS News who is now the founder and CEO of his own company, Tiny Hawk Productions. I became familiar with his work at Abby’s suggestion, after she saw one of his stories on “CBS This Morning.” The story centered around Hawkins and his relatives’ efforts to restore a family cemetery in East Texas. Hawkins and his family own 300 acres in Nacogdoches County, and the ownership can be traced back to his formerly enslaved great-great-great-great grandfather, who first purchased some of the land in 1867, just two years after the Emancipation Proclamation went into effect in Texas.
Since Hawkins was coming to campus for his Tuesday evening talk to the big group, I proposed that he spend two days on campus and speak to several classes in the Department of Journalism, Public Relations & New Media, which he happily agreed to do. He and his sister, Tayelor Miller, a recent graduate of Howard University who is headed to film school at UCLA, spent Monday and Tuesday visiting several classes and speaking to and answering questions from students. For dinner Monday night, we invited them to our house, along with fellow Baylor professors, Dan and Ginger Hanchey and Bruce Longenecker, and Fiona Bond, executive director of Creative Waco. We had planned to dine on the porch, but chilly, windy weather forced us inside, so we set up a big table in the living room.
We’ve hosted a bunch of dinner parties over the years, often inviting people who we’re pretty sure don’t know each other, and we’ve had some mixed results. Sometimes folks really click and conversation flows easily, and sometimes…that doesn’t happen. On this occasion, however, everyone connected. Friendships were formed, email addresses were exchanged and creative collaborations were planned. I’m looking forward to seeing what comes out of some of the conversations that happened that night.
The menu we chose ended up being perfect for a cold, rainy night. The stewed chicken filled the house with its savory aroma as it was cooking. We served the chicken over orzo, with freshly made focaccia – our favorite homemade bread.
Greek Cinnamon Stewed Chicken
- 1 chicken (2 1/2 to 3 pounds), cut into 8 pieces
- 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 2 teaspoons kosher salt
- 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 5 cloves garlic, peeled and minced, divided
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 large yellow onion, peeled and coarsely chopped
- 2 cups water
- 1 can (6 ounces) tomato paste
- 1 tablespoon dried Italian herb seasoning
- Parmesan cheese
Using paper towels, pat the chicken dry. In a small bowl, mix the cinnamon, salt and pepper.
Rub the chicken pieces on all sides with the seasoning mixture.
Heat the olive oil in a large, deep skillet over high heat.
Add the chicken to the oil and brown for about 4 to 5 minutes on each side. Turn the pieces using a metal spatula, as they have a tendency to stick to the pan. Remove the pieces when they are well browned on all sides.
Cook in two batches if necessary.
Lower the heat to medium-high and add the onions and 3 cloves of minced garlic. Cook for about 3 minutes, stirring constantly, until the onions have softened and are a rich golden brown. Add about 1/2 cup of water and scrape the bottom of the pan with a spatula or spoon to deglaze the pan, loosening any particles stuck on the bottom.
When the water has evaporated, add 1 1/2 cups of water, tomato paste, Italian seasoning and remaining 2 minced garlic cloves.
Return the chicken to the pan. The liquid should cover about 3/4 of the chicken pieces. Cover the pan and simmer over medium-high heat for about 30 to 40 minutes, or until the chicken is tender and thoroughly cooked. If the sauce becomes too thick, add a little more water.
Season the finished sauce with kosher salt and pepper to taste. Serve over rice, orzo or pasta of your choice. Sprinkle with grated Parmesan cheese. Makes about 4-6 servings.
Italian Green Beans
- 14 ounces green beans, trimmed
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 shallot, finely sliced
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
- 1 can (6 ounces) tomato paste
- 1/3 cup water
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
- Fresh basil leaves for garnish (optional)
Boil the green beans in salted boiling water for 3-4 minutes.
Add olive oil to a large skillet set over medium-high heat. When the oil is hot, add the shallots and cook for a few seconds, then add the garlic. Sauté for 1 minute, then add the red pepper flakes and stir.
Add tomato paste, water, salt and pepper to the skillet and stir to combine. If the sauce is too thick, add a little more water.
Add the green beans and stir to coat. Cook for 8-10 minutes then serve garnished with basil, if using. Makes about 4 servings.
Green Salad with Pears and Tahini Vinaigrette
- 1 package (6 ounces) baby spinach or spring mix
- 1 pear, sliced
- Tahini Vinaigrette (recipe follows)
- Blue cheese crumbles, to taste
- Sugared Pecans (recipe follows)
Place the spinach or spring mix in a mixing bowl, and add the pears. Add about half the vinaigrette and toss. The greens and pears should be lightly coated. Add more dressing if needed. Top with blue cheese and pecans. Makes about 6 servings.
- 2 1/2 teaspoons tahini
- 1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
- Juice of 1 large lemon
- 1 tablespoon maple syrup
- 1 pinch kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
In a small mixing bowl, whisk all the ingredients. Taste and adjust seasonings as needed.
- 1/4 cup powdered sugar
- 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1/4 teaspoon cayenne
- 2 teaspoons water
- 1 cup pecan halves
In a small bowl, add the sugar, salt, cayenne and water. Mix to form a paste. Add the pecans and stir to coat. Spread on a parchment-lined sheet pan and bake for 10-12 minutes or until the pecans are caramelized. Watch to make sure they don’t burn. Allow to cool completely before serving on the salad. Store any leftover pecans in an airtight container. Makes 1 cup.
Coconut Cream Pie
- 4 large egg yolks
- 1/4 cup corn starch
- 1 can (14 ounces) full fat coconut milk
- 1 cup half-and-half
- 2/3 cup sugar
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1 cup sweetened shredded coconut
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
- Toasted Coconut Graham Cracker Crust (recipe follows)
- Toasted Coconut (for garnish)
In a small bowl, whisk the egg yolks and corn starch together. Set aside. In a medium saucepan over medium heat, whisk the coconut milk, half-and-half, sugar and salt together. Whisking occasionally, bring to a boil. Boil for 2 minutes, then reduce heat to medium-low. Once boiling, remove about 1/2 cup of the mixture and slowly add into the egg yolk-cornstarch mixture, whisking constantly.
In a slow, steady stream, pour the egg yolk mixture into the saucepan, again whisking constantly.
The mixture will immediately begin to bubble and thicken. Use caution as the bubbles may burst. Whisk and cook for 1 minute and 30 seconds. Remove from heat and stir in the coconut, butter and vanilla.
Pour the warm filling into the cooled pie crust. Cover tightly with plastic wrap directly on the surface of the pie and refrigerate overnight.
Serve with fresh whipped cream and garnish with toasted coconut. Makes about 8 servings.
Toasted Coconut Graham Cracker Crust
- 3/4 cup sweetened shredded coconut
- 1 1/2 cups graham cracker crumbs
- 10 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
Heat oven to 325 F.
Place the coconut in a small skillet over medium-high heat. Stir the coconut frequently, and toast until it’s fragrant and light brown, about 5-7 minutes.
Add the graham crackers and toasted coconut to food processor. Pulse until the mixture is finely ground. Pour into a bowl.
Add the melted butter to the graham cracker mixture and stir until combined. Press the mixture into the bottom and sides of a 9-inch pie plate. Bake for 10 minutes. Remove from the oven and let cool completely.