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Sunday, May 1, 2016

Local home cook learned skills by watching

Friday, August 7, 2009

Donna Dene English and her 6-year-old son Alejandro enjoy spending time in the kitchen of their rural Brazil home cooking together. The stay-at-home mom was nominated by her husband David to be one of Clay County's Best and Most Unique Cooks. Ivy Jacobs Photo. [Order this photo]
Watching someone prepare a recipe is the best way to learn how to cook, according to Donna Dene English

"Helping is really the best way, but watching someone lets you see how and why something is done while preparing food. It's important to learn how a dish is put together," English said about learning to cook American, Cantonese/Chinese, Mexican and now Indian cuisine. "I have also used cookbooks, television and the Internet. Once you get past the scariness of trying something new -- and you're wiling to learn -- the knowledge is out there, you just have to find it."

The stay-at-home mom was nominated by her husband, David, to be spotlighted as one of Clay County's Best and Most Unique Cooks because of her Indian recipe for Cashew Chicken.

"I'm so excited," she said about being able to share her recipe with others. "Cashew Chicken is my husband's favorite."

English, who enjoys cooking with her 6-year-old son Alejandro, admits her love of food and cooking started when she was a girl.

"Like most moms of the 1960s, when all the children went off to school, our mom went to work. She'd have ingredients out for dinner and I'd call her when I got home from school, wanting to help out by cooking," English said. "The first meal I remember cooking was a fluffy omelet and toast. I used my mom's cookbook. I was hooked from then on."

While in college, English worked as a nanny for a Chinese family who ate Cantonese food exclusively. Later, she cooked her way through a cookbook to learn about Mexican cuisine and recently learned the delicate intricacies of Indian cuisine from a neighbor while teaching English at a university in China.

"Cooking is a creative outlet for me," she said. "I love food."

The result of learning how to use "real spices" in so many various cuisines is a large spice cabinet in her kitchen inspired by Food Network star Alton Brown.

"I love how he's all about the science of cooking and using real forms of spices," she said. "Learning the science of how a dish is created is the ultimate satisfaction for me. Then, when it's done, you get to eat it."

English's cooking skills has allowed her to learn about and share different cultures with family and friends.

"Different cultures enjoy sharing their food and in turn their culture with others," English said. "Food bonds humans together because we all have to eat, which is why every culture has their own way of preparing food."

While cooking at home is more economical and nutritious, English enjoys raising her own food and herbs, making her own whole-hog sausage and is preparing to branch off into raising chickens in the future.

"I really should have been born in the pioneer days," English said, adding that she also enjoys sewing while walking around the new chicken coop in the back yard. "I'm ready to be a pioneer woman right now."

Cashew Chicken

This recipe serves four.


2 lb chicken, skinned

6 whole dried red chilies (use 3 for milder taste)

6 cloves

1 three inch cinnamon stick

c grated coconut

1 c cashews - roasted, salted

1 large onion, chopped

12 garlic cloves, peeled

1 half inch piece fresh ginger, chopped

5 Tbsp oil

2 Tbsp coriander seeds, ground

1 tsp cumin seeds, ground

salt to taste


Cut chicken into 8 pieces.

In a large frying pan, without any fat or oil, toast red chilies, cloves and cinnamon over low heat for 10 minutes, stirring all the time. In the last 30 seconds add dry coconut. Turn off the heat and leave to cool.

In a food processor, grind the mixture with 3/4-cup water to a fine consistency. Set aside in small bowl.

Grind 1-cup cashews dry then add water to make a paste. Set aside in another small bowl. Grind onions, garlic and ginger with a little water into paste.

Put oil into the pan and heat. Add powdered cumin and coriander seeds for a second then pureed onion and garlic. Fry 10 minutes.

Add the spice/coconut mix. Fry 5 minutes or so.

Add chicken. Rub the spices into the chicken as you are dry frying for 10 minutes.

Add cashew paste. Mix it around a little more. Add some salt. Let cook 30 to 40 minutes or until the chicken is done.

Three minutes before serving, add the rest of the whole cashews to heat through.

This is a thick, dark curry that has whole cashews in it. Serve with chapattis or naan (a type of oven baked flatbread) and a green vegetable.

NOTE: When grinding the spices and cashews, make sure the pastes are smooth. If not, the curry will look curdled.

Show off your skills

To participate or nominate someone to be spotlighted for Clay County's Best and Most Unique Cooks, entries must be submitted by e-mail to missivy1964@yahoo.com or via the post office to The Brazil Times, 100 N. Meridian St., Brazil.

Please include your contact information and that of the nominee (name, phone number and e-mail), the entire recipe and a sentence or two about why it is special.

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Enjoyed reading this story very much...this young lady is a Christian and sets such a good example for all of us. I have known her much of her life. How nice to see an article about her and her cooking skills. Keep up the good work.

-- Posted by country woman on Sat, Aug 8, 2009, at 11:04 AM

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