Cook’s Corner: Melissa Musselwhite

First Posted: 1/15/2009

LUMBERTON -- With three active adolescents going in different directions, life is frantic at the Musselwhite household.
On most afternoons Will, who is 18, is either on a soccer field or out doing the social thing adolescents his age do. Anna, who is 12, is a soccer fanatic -- and also serves up her share of winners during tennis season. Meanwhile, 15-year-old Kathryn, a ballet enthusiast, is performing pirouettes in and out the door.
Welcome to the sometimes-maddening, always-entertaining world of Melissa Musselwhite. She's the mom who must coordinate an on-the-go generation and also slip meals into the schedule.
“Well, they're not big eaters, which I guess is good,” Musselwhite said. “We almost never sit down together to eat, and I'm actually surprised how little they eat.”
To her credit, Musselwhite puts a meat, vegetable, fruit and bread product on the table for each meal and makes sure milk and juices are plentiful, which keeps the trio athletic, slender and healthy enough to grace the cover of a teen magazine.
While snacks are available in the cupboard, there's rarely time for dessert. Occasionally, though, the Musselwhites reserve blocks of time to decorate and devour picturesque cakes.
“This is a way we can all be together,” Melissa said. “It's an excellent way to be together and keep you with your kids. It's something I'm sure they'll do later (with their own children).”
One of her favorites is a dirt cake, which is made with Oreo cookies, cream cheese and served in a flower bucket. Gummy worms and other gooey surprises are included for aesthetics.
“It's veeery good,” Kathryn. “Everyone likes that.”
The Musselwhites make seasonal cakes, decorating them around such events as Easter, Christmas, the four seasons and other occasions.
“We're the world's best copiers,” Melissa says with a smile. “If we find a picture of it in a magazine, we try to do it. I love to read and I'm the queen of copying. It's really good because the kids are at the age where I don't have to do most of the work.”
The experience is so enjoyable that cousin Carey frequently volunteers as a cake designer. Although Melissa tends to downplay her cooking abilities, she prepares excellent meals, say Tina Bullard and Sissy Grantham, who ate at the Musselwhite residence on Sunday.
They were first teased with a shrimp appetizer layered in cream cheese and cocktail sauce and served with crackers. A spring salad with dates, almonds and Montrachet cheese whet their appetites for steamed green beans, fettuccine and chicken piccata.
Melissa grew up watching her mother cook, but she didn't actually pick up many ladles until getting married in 1980.
“Initially, everything I cooked had to be fried for any kind of meal or meat,” she said. “Then I had a great friend who shared recipes with me. Like everyone else, I made a lot of mistakes.”
She knew her cooking skills were progressing when whipping together a turkey dinner, complete with biscuits from scratch.
“I had all the ingredients and the reason I felt good about it that came together quickly and I didn't have to plan it as such,” she said.
The chicken dish is from the archives of her sister, Marianne Matthews, and can be used with veal.
“It's very easy and doesn't require a lot of ingredients,” Melissa said. “It can be fixed ahead of time, say in the afternoon, and the longer it sits, the better it is.”
Now, for tips for her dinner party meal and a couple of fun dessert recipes.
Chicken piccata
Serves: 8
Preparation time: 30 minutes
8 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 cup + 2 teaspoons water, divided
1 1/2 teaspoons salt, divided
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1/2 teaspoon sage
1/3 cup flour
1/3 cup olive oil
2 tablespoons butter
1/2 cup dry white wine
1 chicken-bouillon cube
14 ounce package of ham
2 lemons
Parsley sprigs
Marinate chicken breast in lemon juice and 2 teaspoons water for 30 minutes. Place between layers of waxed paper; pound with meat mallet to 1/8 inch thickness. Sprinkle with 1 teaspoon salt and pepper, mix flour and sage. Heat oil and butter in 12-inch skillet over medium heat. Saut chicken breasts, a few at a time until lightly browned on both sides, adding more oil is necessary. Remove chicken skillet. Reduce heat to low. Stir remaining 1 cup of water, wine, bouillon cub, and 1/2 teaspoon salt into drippings to deglaze; stir to loosen browned bits. Return chicken and ham to skillet; simmer, covered 15 minutes or until tender. Remove to warm platter. Squeeze juice of 1 lemon liquid in skillet; stir and heat to boiling. Pour over chicken. Thinly slice remaining lemon; arrange with parsley sprigs over chicken. Serve with fettuccine.
Green beans
Steam beans for about 12 minutes. Slice 1/2 Vidalia onion and cut up 2 slices of bacon. Cook in olive oil. Add garlic and cook until soft. Add beans and cook 5 to 7 minutes.
Spring salad
8 dates (sliced)
1 bag of almonds (toasted)
Montrachet or chevve cheese
Spring salad mix
Serves: 4
2 tablespoons wine vinegar
1 1/2 tablespoons soy sauce
1/2 cup olive oil
Fresh garlic and pepper to taste
Shrimp appetizer
Cream cheese
1/4 cup mayonnaise
Layer cream cheese, cocktail sauce and serve with crackers.
Dirt cake
In a small bowl blend:
1/2 stick margarine
8 ounces cream cheese
1 cup powdered sugar
Mix together in another bowl:
3 1/2 cups milk
3 1/2 ounces instant French vanilla pudding
12 ounces Cool Whip
Crush 1 to 1 1/2 packages of Oreo cookies
Blend 2 mixtures together. In a flower pot, layer cookies, cream mixture, cookies, cream mixture and top with cookies. Add gummy worms and plastic flower. Serve with a spade.
Cayce's eclair cake
2 large packages of instant vanilla pudding
3 cups milk
8 ounce carton Cool Whip
1 box Graham crackers
Chocolate frosting (homemade or can)
Mix pudding with milk. Add cool whip. Mix well in 13″ by 9″ pan. Layer crackers, pudding, and add frosting.
Chocolate frosting
1 stick butter or margarine
2/3 cup cocoa
3 cups powder sugar
1/3 cup milk
1 teaspoon vanilla
Melt butter. Stir in cocoa. Alternately add powered sugar and milk, beating on medium speed to a spreading consistency. Add more milk if necessary. Stir in vanilla.

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