Category Archives: Recipes

Jessica McMullen: Cooking With Love

As a farmer’s daughter, Jessica Bright McMullen learned early on that “food is love.” It’s a lesson that has sustained her both during times of struggles and success. And it’s one of the many reasons you’ll want to break bread with this dynamic owner of KitchenAble, a cooking school located in a quaint Lake Ella cottage.

At KitchenAble (short for “kitchen enabler,”) McMullen teaches weekly classes and features monthly chef’s table dinners, private gatherings, corporate events and kids’ cooking camps. She offers catering and consulting, conducts culinary trips, and over the years, she’s been a radio and television personality and contributor to several cookbooks.

On a personal level, McMullen is a mom, artist, volunteer. The list goes on and on but a passion for cooking pervades all that she does.

“For me, food is an expression of love,” said McMullen. “I really do love being able to use food as a way to nurture others. When someone stops by after a meal and tells me it’s an experience they’ve really enjoyed, it humbles me. I feel like I have done what I set out to do.”

During classes and chef’s dinner nights, everyone sits around a communal table to watch McMullen work her magic. Her husband Chris and friend Glenn Berman help with prepping and washing dishes. Her 10-year-old daughter Madeline is a skillful sous chef. At one class on pasta making, Madeline breezily sliced dough into long strands and worked a rolling pin like a pro.

– KitchenAble

Classes and dinners are a BYOB affair, so it’s not long before strangers relax and get to know each other. At one dinner, a guest stood up and recited poetry. The room quickly filled with laughter — and heavenly aromas. No wonder McMullen forms connections with all those she meets.

“Most of my students become my friends,” she said, offering a guest a cup of her fresh-brewed tea blend and shortbread cookies. McMullen is always cooking, always doing something. “I don’t watch TV,” she said, flashing her broad smile. “That helps.”

McMullen came across the cottage setting for KitchenAble nearly four years ago. She peeked in the window and saw herbs in the window boxes and a butcher block table inside. Her heart quickened. Four months later, she moved in.

“So I was able to buy that butcher block table and weed those herbs,” said McMullen, who spruced up the space. Like the charming setting, much of the decor has personal value, such as the antique chocolate molds, the punch bowl from her grandmother’s best friend, Miss Pearl, and the lovely bread bowls.

“The things that you see here were given to me by my students or friends and they have stories behind them,” she said. “Many are family heirloom kitchen pieces and I feel like those things have been infused with love by the people who used them. I’m very honored and privileged to have these things in my possession now.”

Whether in her classes or chef’s table events, McMullen’s repertoire spans the globe, offering dishes from chicken Marsala to Moroccan beef stew.

“Jessica has so much enthusiasm it’s catching,” said Sandy DeLopez, a regular at KitchenAble’s cooking classes with her husband Tom. They went to one class and were hooked.

“Her classes are fabulous,” said DeLopez. “By the time you leave, you’ll know everyone in the class. There’s nothing like it in Tallahassee.”

That’s partly because of McMullen’s steadfast belief in the transformative power of a home-cooked meal.

“I learned very quickly that food makes people happy, and I like to make people happy.”

Her loyalty to locally grown food is rooted in her childhood, growing up on a small farm in Ayden, North Carolina. Her father grew tobacco, wheat, corn, soy beans and cucumbers and raised pigs and cattle.

She was just five years old when she started cooking on her grandfather’s wood-burning stove.

“I’d toast the pecans from the trees in his yard and scramble eggs in the cast-iron skillet,” said McMullen.

When she was seven, “the tobacco market fell out” and her father lost the farm. It was a difficult time for her family. McMullen’s parents divorced and she split her time between her dad in North Carolina and her mom in Jacksonville.

Her father, an avid fisherman, opened a seafood market when she was 13. “I learned how to filet and clean all kinds of seafood.”

McMullen knew she wanted a career related to food. “I wanted to take home economics and my high school guidance counselors laughed me off.”

After high school, McMullen studied hospitality administration at Florida State University and was offered a job at Walt Disney World’s All-Star Music Resort. “They put me in the food court, flipping burgers. I was devastated,” said McMullen. “It was nothing like my fantasies.”

Still, she learned the ins and outs of working in a kitchen and on her breaks she would watch the cooks at Disney’s opulent Victoria & Albert’s “where I could see the preparation of beautiful food.”

McMullen ended up working full-time at Disney, where she met her husband Chris. She began cooking at the well-regarded California Grill at Disney’s Contemporary Resort. Later moves took the couple to colonial Williamsburg and Lake Tahoe.

The McMullens eventually moved to Jacksonville, where Chris went to law school. The couple have a son Max, 15. They became foster parents and adopted Madeline.

McMullen has worked closely with nonprofit groups including Family Support Services of North Florida and Second Harvest. In 2009, Gov. Charlie Crist presented her with the “Point of Light” Award for her efforts to promote adoption awareness. She received the President’s Call to Service Award from President Barack Obama.

“My mother’s life’s dream was to be a stay-at-home mom and it didn’t work out,” McMullen said. “Maybe she planted that seed in me of wanting to nurture and provide hospitality. I’m fortunate I’ve been able to make that my vocation.”

McMullen’s penchant for hospitality has led to surprising ventures. Her husband’s boss loved her cooking, which led to lessons for his wife and her friends. The lessons led to a job as a spokeswoman for General Electric Appliances, which evolved into a regular TV spot.

Cooking for a church benefit landed her an interview on a Christian radio station called The Promise. McMullen became a regular on the station for eight years, sharing recipes and tips. Through that show, she met Julie Hadden, a Season Four finalist on NBC’s “The Biggest Loser” and wrote a section of healthy recipes for Hadden’s book, “Fat Chance.”

McMullen also co-wrote “The Shannon Miller Healthy and Balanced Pregnancy Cookbook” with the Olympic gymnast.

In recent years, McMullen has been combining travel and cooking. In 2012, she took cooking lessons at Le Cordon Bleu in Paris. Then in June, she shared her love of France with nine students. “It was a moveable feast,” said DeLopez.

McMullen also took a group to Panama and plans another teaching trip to Brittany in 2018.

“French cuisine seems very, very complicated and fancy from a distance, but really at the heart of it, the backbone of it, is getting fresh, local ingredients,” she said. “When you cook that way, wherever you are in the world, the challenge isn’t what you do but what you don’t do.

“As long as you don’t screw up a delicious tomato, you’ll have a delicious end result,” said McMullen. “It’s recognizing that, and valuing that ingredient. These are things I learned as a farmer’s daughter and that’s something that has run through my family for many generations.

“It’s not that the French are more advanced or complicated than we are,” she added. “It’s that they haven’t forgotten that.”

McMullen never forgets that cooking for a living “has not only enabled me to do what I love, it’s enabled me to have a much broader and richer collection of friends and people who I consider family. I feel very blessed because of that.”

When you go…
KitchenAble: Lake Ella, 1635 N. Monroe Dr.
Phone: 850-264-2308
Upcoming: Oktoberfest chef’s dinner, 6:30 p.m. Oct. 27; $55 per person.


Caramel Apple Shortbread

– KitchenAble

½ cup brown sugar packed
¼ cup butter cubed
¼ cup half and half
½ tsp vanilla paste*
½ tsp salt
1 cup softened butter (2 sticks)
¾ cup powdered sugar
pinch of salt
2 cups flour
4 large, tart apples (Granny Smith and Pink Lady)

Preheat your oven to 350°F.  Make the caramel by combining the brown sugar and butter in a saucepan over medium-low heat. Whisk gently and cook for about 3-5 minutes, until it thickens and sugar dissolves.

Slowly add in half-and-half and vanilla paste, while whisking.  Increase temperature to medium-high and bring mixture to a boil and boil for 60 seconds.  Remove from the heat and stir in the salt.

Using your mixer, cream butter, salt, and powdered sugar together.  Gradually add the flour to form dough.  Place the dough in a 9 x 13 baking pan lined with parchment paper.  Press the dough into an even layer on the bottom of the pan.  Bake at 350°F for 15-20 minutes, until it looks dry on the surface, then remove from oven.  Cut apples into thin slices and arrange – overlapping– in a layer on the shortbread.  Pour caramel over the sliced apples.  If desired garnish with toasted pecans.

* Vanilla paste is a thick syrupy paste made from vanilla beans with the small flecks of the beans visible.  If you don’t have that available you could substitute the same amount of vanilla extract.

— Jessica Bright McMullen



Nancy Leikauf is one of the most generous hostesses and cooks we know in Tallahassee. This November will mark the 11th year that nancywineNancy and her husband, Steve Bousquet, have opened their home to a soup and salad party, celebrating fall with friends who each bring a pot of their favorite soup to share. It’s an event my husband and I look forward to each year.

Nancy has graciously agreed to share the recipe for her go-to Taco Soup with our Tallahassee Table readers. It’s a homey dish that’s also a tasty complement to your game day feast.

Here’s the recipe below, but check out the video of Nancy making souppotthe soup and talking about her love of cooking, filmed by our intern Katie Kennedy. For Nancy, soup not only feeds our bodies. It nourishes the soul.


1 pound ground chuck
1 large onion, chopped
3 (15 ½-ounce) cans Mexican-style chili beans, undrained
1 (15 ½-ounce) can whole kernel corn, undrained
1 (15-ounce) can tomato sauce
1 (14 ½-ounce) can diced tomatoes, undrained
1 (4.5-ounce) can chopped green chiles
1 (1 ½ ounce) envelope taco seasoning mix
1 (1-ounce) envelope Ranch-style dressing mix
1½ cups water
Pinch of baking soda

Toppings: corn chips, shredded lettuce, chopped tomatoes, sour cream and shredded Cheddar cheese.

1. Cook beef and onions in a Dutch oven over medium-high heat until meat is browned and onions are tender, stirring until meat crumbles. Drain.
2. Stir beans and the next 7 ingredients into the beef mixture. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer, uncovered, for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.
3. Spoon soup into bowls. Garnish with desired toppings.

Makes 3½ quarts.

His Job Really Is A Grind


We were at Market Square Farmer’s Market one recent Saturday and came across Rich Pouncey, selling cornmeal, grits, polenta and corn flour.

These are not just any old cornmeal and grits; they’re down home,
made from Appalachian Mountain Heirloom White Corn that his CornmealBumpy Road Farm has grown on contract in Georgia, and Creek Indian Corn produced in the Gainesville area.

Bumpy Road Farms then uses only hand labor to drop the freshly shelled corn before a fan to get rid of any cobs, stalks, leaves or silks. From there, the clean corn is ground, to various levels of coarseness, on a gristmill. It’s all non GMO, and gluten- and pesticide-free.

But the words we’re writing here don’t do justice to what Mr.
Pouncey does. His words do. You’ve got to talk to him, hear the music of his voice, see the pride he has in his products. It’s an education.

There’s discussion going on about the Market Square Farmers Market moving to the Centre of Tallahassee Mall. Some say it’s done deal, some say it’s not, some say there’ll be a market presence in both locations. We hope it’s both; the more the merrier.

But either way, we hope Mr. Pouncey and his cornmeal and grits Cornmeal signremain available.

Here’s his grandmother’s recipe for cornbread. Try it. And then stop by and hear the story, direct from an artisan.

Grandma Pouncey’s Cornbread

1 cup cornmeal
1/4 tsp  salt (or to taste)
1 cup buttermilk
1 Tbsp melted butter

Heat oven to 400 degrees Farenheit
Mix all ingredients very well
Pour batter into a heated, well-cured 10-inch cast iron skillet
Cook on medium heat on stove top for 15 minutes, skillet covered
Gently turn the bread over with a spatula
Bake in oven 30 minutes, skillet covered with an ovenproof lid

Eat it.

Garbage Bag Slaw

This is a quick and easy side salad, especially for those summer cookouts. It’s also fun, almost certain to start a lively kitchen conversation. Or to get your guests wondering about your sanity. I credit my husband, and lots of wine, for this one.


  • One cabbage head, chopped fairly finely. (That wrinkly cabbage is best, I think, because the dressing seems to cling better. And, if you wish, you can throw in some purple cabbage for color.)
  • One jar of sunflower seeds.
  • One small jar of chopped pimientos.
  • Black pepper to taste.
  • One bottle/jar, about 12 oz. of dressing. (I like Caesar, or one of the other white dressings, but try different things. Making your own dressing is certainly an option but I like to do this whole thing, start to finish, in 10 minutes.)

Optional ingredients

  • One small sweet onion, finely chopped.
  • One small can chopped or sliced olives. (Green look best, I think)
  • A big handful of toasted almond slices, or any other nuts you like. (That’s if you don’t like sunflower seeds.)


  • Pour chopped cabbage, nuts, pimientos and any optional ingredients into a plastic garbage bag. (We don’t have to tell you this should be a clean, pristine bag, right?)
  • Shake vigorously to mix. (This is where people laugh, or roll their eyes. Go ahead, ham it up.)
  • Add the dressing. Just pour it into the bag. Do it with a flourish.
  • Shake again, vigorously. (If you have a catchy tune, now’s time to sing it.)
  • Empty bag into a large bowl.
  • (Expect applause.)


A big easy Sazarac

Here’s a contribution from my husband. Now if only he could perfect a beignet.  Cheers!  

We’re feeling New Orleans today. Would love some crawfish  étouffée, oysters and, especially, a Sazarac cocktail, the quintessential drink of the Crescent City.

A Sazarac has history, an amazing sweet-strong taste that works both in cool and warm temps, it’s fun to say, and has many variations as there are bars in the French Quarter. 

One of the best sources of info is at the Sazarac Company, which also features several recipes.

Read all about it at your leisure. Better yet, make a Sazarac, and drink it.

Here’s a recipe we use. We’re not sure where we first came across it, but we know we’ve modified it many times over the years.


3 oz. rye whiskey (or fine bourbon, or brandy)

3/4 oz. simple syrup. (Or, one sugar cube, or 1 teaspoon fine
sugar, dissolved in water.)

Four dashes of Peychaud bitters

One dash of Angostura bitters


lemon twist


Chill an old-fashioned glass by filling it with ice and letting it sit while preparing the rest of the drink.

In a separate mixing glass, muddle the simple syrup or sugar, Peychaud and Angostura bitters together.

Add the rye/bourbon/brandy and ice to the bitters mixture and stir.

Discard the ice in the chilled glass. Pour a small amount of absinthe into the glass, swirl it around and discard the excess.

Strain the whiskey mixture from the mixing glass into the old fashioned glass. Add ice or not; your choice

Squeeze the lemon twist over the drink, and rub it around the glass rim. Limes work, too. Even oranges.