Adventures in Teaching, Part Two: the Case of the Vivacious Vocabulary

I’m starting to think that I might be reading and watching more Perry Mason* than is useful, because I keep catching myself trying to come up with titles in the style of Erle Stanley Gardner’s stories.

Then again, anyone who has been a teacher before knows that anything that can get your students’ attention is worth doing, no matter how goofy, even if it’s starting class by singing ‘Best Day Ever’ from SpongeBob SquarePants.** Of course, in the case of the latter, even the toughest of my kids always join in by the end 😉

In this lesson, I was creating differing degrees of a vocabulary lesson that shows students’ understanding of key culinary terms. What you see pictured above are the three stages of a standard word search, each reflecting a new level of student knowledge and understanding.

In the first level, students simply search for as many words as possible as listed in the word bank. At the second level, students search for the words listed in the word bank, and then write out definitions. At the final stage, students still have to find and define the words, but unlike at the other levels, they receive only hints for the words but no word bank.

What I enjoy about this lesson is how easily one can adapt it to any subject with a simple word substitution, and how quickly one can start to gauge student vocabulary understanding.

Below is a link to the Excel-based files:

culinary word search-and-define with three levels of difficulty

If you use the files, please let me know the results!


* Perry Mason:

** ‘Best Day Ever’ from Spongebob SquarePants:

Happy PI Day!


I love savory pies, and my new favorite is Tamale Pie. I love the layers of smoky and spicy flavors, how it allows for almost any type of meat and beans, fresh or frozen veggies, and can be vegetarian or even vegan. In honor of PI Day, I present my boyfriend’s favorite, full of spicy sausage with sweet corn for balance.

I was technically making pie for two, but I can’t ever seem to cook for less than six, so I made this as three 9″ pies and froze two for later. If you want to serve up to 10, this mixture also fills one pan that’s approximately 13″x9″x2″.

PI Day Tamale Pie
Copyright 2016 by Lauren Bradford (aka The Food Puzzler)
Prep time: 10 minutes
Cook time: 20 minutes stovetop + 1 hour baking time
Serves: 10-12


5-6 sausages of choice, meat removed from casings
1 small onion, rough chop
1 plum tomato, rough chop
1 tablespoon + 1 teaspoon chili powder
1 tablespoon onion powder
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
2 cups shredded cabbage
1 cup cooked beans of choice, rinsed
1 bag frozen corn
3 bell peppers, large dice
2 cups masa harina (maseca) + 1 teaspoon salt
2 small or 1 large jalapeño, thin slice (optional)
NOTE: USE PLASTIC FOOD SAFE GLOVES for slicing and arranging jalapeños. Take it from someone who once got a little jalapeño juice accidentally in her eye, these gloves are your best friend!


1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. In a medium sauté pan, set to medium heat, cook the sausage completely, crumbling as you cook. Sausage is generally fatty enough on its own that you won’t need to add extra to the pan to prevent sticking, but if you do, add only 1 teaspoon at a time.

2. Remove the cooked sausage using a slotted spoon to keep most of the sausage’s residual fat in the pan. Place in a large bowl. Then, to the sauté pan, add the onion, tomato and spices to the pan, along with 1/4 cup warm water. Combine and cook 5 minutes, scraping up any bits from the bottom of the pan to incorporate the flavor

3. Add in the cabbage and 1/4 cup water if needed, cover and cook another 5 minutes. Stir to combine, then transfer everything but residual liquid to the bowl with the sausage.

4. Add the corn, beans and bell peppers to the pan and cook 5 minutes, adding 1/4 cup warm water and scrape again if needed. Transfer to the same bowl and combine all ingredients completely.

5. Transfer to the pans you’re using. As noted above, this recipe makes three pies if using standard 9″ pie pans, which is handy for freezing some for future mealtimes. However, if you are planning to serve it all at once, this mixture also fills one that’s approximately 13″x9″x2″.

6. Once you’ve transferred everything out of the bowl, put in the maseca, the other teaspoon of salt, and three cups of water. Stir thoroughly, smushing out any lumps. The batter will be liquidy and this is what you want.

7. Pour this mixture over the top(s) of the pie pan(s) and smooth. Then, arrange the slices of jalapeños on top. I alternated the jalapeño slices with hot sauce above, but both of these toppings are optional. If you don’t like heat, reserve some bell pepper slices instead.

8. Bake at 350 degrees for 1 hour, or until the mixture bubbles up on the edge of the crust.

Chicken a la Clare

I belong to a group of friends who have been meeting for over ten years to catch up and watch movies. It’s a potluck, and we each take turns providing the main course. This past year, when it was my turn to provide the main, I wanted to make a simple chicken dish to accommodate the food allergies suffered by one of the other members of the party, Clare.

I checked with her to confirm safe ingredients and, somehow, ‘olive oil’ got mistaken for ‘olives,’ which Clare loves. I decided to run with it. I had wanted to bake the chicken with spinach and tomatoes already, and thought green olives had the right flavor to complement the dish.

I tested it on my family, and we loved it, but I wasn’t prepared for its popularity at our movie day. I was asked for my recipe, which of course meant I had to actually write one down 😉

I usually make this one day ahead, as I find that the flavor is better if served one day later, warmed at 300 degrees for an hour or until hot.

I’m sharing below, named in honor of my friend. I hope you enjoy the results!


Chicken a la Clare
Copyright 2015 by Lauren Bradford (aka The Food Puzzler)

Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook time: approximately 1 hour 30 minutes
Serves: 6


~ 6-8 chicken pieces, bone-in, skin-on and of fairly equal thickness
~ 2 bag frozen spinach
~ 2 cups, 1 box or 1-28oz can chopped tomatoes
~ 1-12 oz bottle Manzilla green olives
~ 1 teaspoon salt
~ 1/2 teaspoon pepper
~ 1 teaspoon each garlic and onion powder
~ 1 tablespoon dried rosemary
~ up to 2 tbsp olive oil


1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. In a small container, place the dried seasonings and mix to combine. Rub these spices under the skin of the chicken pieces.

2. In a frying pan, coat with a small amount of the oil. You don’t want more than a coating, you’re using this pan to sear the chicken. Heat the pan to medium-high heat, place the chicken skin-side down on the pan and let the sizzle begin!

Keep the chicken skin-side down until it comes up with a nice brown crust, which adds great flavor to those who love the skin, great overall appearance to the chicken, and helps keep the chicken extra moist. (I sometimes speed up this process by wrapping an unvarnished, unpainted brick in foil and placing it on top of the chicken to weight it down and get more even coverage and crusting.)

3. In a roasting pan large enough for the chicken pieces to be evenly spaced without touching, distribute the spinach, tomatoes and olives.

4. Nestle the chicken on top of the mixture. Cover with parchment first and then foil, and cook at 350 degrees F until the thickest pieces of chicken reach an internal temperature of 165 degrees F.

Served with warm, crusty bread or rice makes for a hearty meal on a cool night!

Peanut Butter & Jelly Crunch Bread

I’ve always loved dried fruits (apricots, sweet sweet pineapple, raisins, even prunes) but once I discovered dates, dried fruits became one of my favorite treats. I’m always trying to find new ways to enjoy and share. I also love peanut butter (classic and powder forms) and find myself often pairing fruits and nuts together, including in this bread. I was inspired by a Food52 contest* and puzzled around to find a way to create a fruity and nutty bread.

Enter…PB&J Crunch Bread!

PB&J Crunch Bread slices are a tasty snack on their own, and are also tasty topped with assorted healthy and ‘splurgy’ options like fruits, fruit spread, ice cream, frozen yogurt, Greek yogurt, marshmallow fluff (the ultimate fluffernutter!) or chocolate sauce.

Peanut Butter & Jelly Crunch Bread
Copyright 2106 by Lauren Bradford (aka The Food Puzzler)


2 cups flour of choice
(NOTE: I use half spelt and half organic AP flour)
1/8 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoon baking powder
3/4 cup peanut butter powder
1 egg
1 cup milk
1/3 cup warm water
1/4 cup honey
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup chopped nuts of choice
1/2 cup dried fruits of choice, chopped fine or pulsed in food processor


1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Line a bread pan (8″x4″ or 9″x3″) with parchment paper or coat bottom and sides with non-stick spray, and place a piece of parchment on the bottom of the pan.

2. Combine the dry ingredients in a medium-sized bowl and set aside.

3. Place the milk, honey, warm water and sugar in a smaller bowl and mix to work in the honey. Then, add egg and combine.

4. Pour the liquid mixture into the dry mixture, and combine thoroughly with a spatula or heavy spoon.

5. Place half the mixture in the pan, then add a layer of nuts and dried fruits, reserving 2 tablespoons of the fruit and 1 tablespoon of the nuts.

6. Pour the remaining bread batter on top of the mixture and spread evenly. Top with reserved fruit and nuts.

NOTE: This bread takes about an hour to bake, so to prevent burning on the top, loosely covered it with foil or parchment before placing in the center of the oven.

7. Bake until a toothpick comes out clean, which is between 45 minutes and one hour. Start checking at 45 minutes.

8. Cool to warm if serving or completely if freezing, slice with a serrated knife for best results. Serves 10 good-sized pieces, or wrap individual slices and freeze for later use.