Entries in Martie Duncan (275)


Party with a Purpose: A Heartwarming Cupcake Party in Newtown

February 14, 2013. Valentine's Day. For most people, it was just the typical annual excuse to eat candy and to make sure to tell those you love that they are loved. Valentine's Day should be an oooey-gooey sappy day of unabashed sentiment. A happy day... or at least it should be. This year, February 14 meant something completely different to Newtown, Connecticut. It was the second month after the Sandy Hook school shooting that left Newtown residents forever changed... a day too horrible to even imagine.    

One of the best parts of my job is that I get to do things that make others happy. Back in the depth of winter, a selfless woman named Vikki Grodner invited me to assist her wonderful organization, Life is Precious, in throwing a Valentine's Day party for Newtown. She called it a "heartwarming event" and invited first responders, families, and the community of Newtown to come out and forget their grief for a few hours. She did not do this for press or for pay. She organized this event (from Alabama, I might add) for no other reason than the sheer goodwill of the gesture.


One thing I know for certain is this... a cupcake is one sure way to make someone smile. Try it! Show someone a cupcake and see if they don't bust out a smile for you even before they take a bite.   That was the thought behind this event... cupcakes do seem to simply make life better, if only for a few bites. It was a day that will stick with me for a very long time. I'd like to thank everyone who contributed but especially my very good friends at ORIENTAL TRADING COMPANY who came to my rescue just a few days before the event. They sent in all of the beautiful decorations I used to make the cafeteria look festive including: cupcake stands, tissue garlands, paper lanterns, tablecloths, pennants, and tons of arts and craft supplies so the kids and families could make valentines... and lots of good memories. 

Back home in Alabama, the great folks at CROWDER GULF pitched in to help and did not ask for one thing in return.  THANK YOU Ashley & Crowder Gulf for donating to this party that made a difference for so many. Thanks to my sweet castmate and ultimate cake baking guru, Linkie Marais from Food Network Star who drove 3 hours each way to come help me. You are an angel.

Life is precious. Amen.

Visit LIFE IS for information or to make a donation.


Super Party Recipe: Italian Rice Balls with Marinara Sauce

I have to tell the story of this recipe. My cast mate, Michele Ragussis from Food Network Star made this for us one night for dinner when we were working on the show... and then I got a chance to make it on the show a few days later. She gave me her blessing:) Mine's a bit different than hers AND hers has been perfected from her mom Phyllis' recipe... sooo good!!

These are the perfect party food. If  you just use ground beef they are inexpensive to make, you can easily double the recipe and you can even make them in advance and freeze them- just thaw and fry just before guests arrive. You will love these! Everyone raved about them during our Food Court Challange on the show. I even had a marriage proposal and one Italian guy said my marinara was better than his mother's! These are cheesy and delicious. Try them and let me know!

Italian Rice Balls (Arancini)

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 medium onion, diced small

5cloves garlic, minced

1 pound ground beef
1 pound ground veal
1 cup Italian flat leaf parsley minced
2 tablespoons fresh thyme, minced
1 tablespoon dried oregano
2 teaspoons kosher salt

1 teaspoon black pepper

½ teaspoon red pepper flakes
½ teaspoon cayenne pepper

1 ½ cups tomato sauce

2 cups grated Parmesan cheese grated

2 cups cooked and cooled Arborio rice (cooked until just done, not overcooked)

5 eggs

3 cups breadcrumbs with Italian seasoning

Canola oil for frying

3 tablespoons minced fresh basil

Marinara Sauce (see recipe below or use store-bought)

Special equipment: #10 (small-medium) ice cream scoop


Cook the rice according to package directions but you want the rice to be sticky so I cook a bit longer than I should and don't add butter or olive oil to the water. You don't want it to be mushy. Set aside.  

Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat and sauté onions and garlic for 2 minutes until softened. Add meat and cook until browned, breaking up large pieces as it cooks. Strain off excess fat from the pan. Add parsley and cook 3 minutes. Add thyme, oregano, and pepper, and salt, cayenne, red pepper flakes. Taste and add more seasoning if needed.

Keep in mind that rice and cheese contain salt so be careful not to over salt the meat mixture. Let the meat mixture cool a bit. Add the tomato sauce. Combine rice with cheese but be careful not to mash the rice. Add the rice mixture to meat mixture and stir gently to combine. Check the seasoning. Add additional salt and pepper if necessary.

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Use ice cream scoop to shape the balls so they are a consistent size, then hand roll the balls as tightly as you can.

Pour enough canola oil into a deep skillet or Dutch oven to reach 5”. Heat oil over medium heat to 350-degrees.Use a thermometer to check the oil temperature.

Whisk eggs in a small baking dish. Place breadcrumbs in another baking dish. Roll rice balls lightly in the eggs then immediately roll in breadcrumbs to form a coating. Shake off the excess breadcrumbs. Place them on the baking sheet and refrigerate or freeze until you are ready to fry.

To fry:

Carefully drop rice balls into the hot oil a few at a time, taking care not to overcrowd and lower the oil temperature. Cook until golden brown, about 2-4 minutes per batch. Bring oil back up to 350-degrees before cooking each batch. Drain rice balls on paper towels before serving.

Serve with homemade or store-bought marinara for dipping. Garnish with the basil leaves.

Me and Justin frying it up on FNS 2012Marinara Sauce

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 onion, chopped

4 cloves garlic, minced

3 large cans (28 ounces) whole peeled tomatoes, including liquid

1 cup fresh basil leaves

½ cup fresh thyme leaves

½ cup fresh oregano leaves

2 teaspoons kosher salt

½ teaspoon black pepper

Heat olive oil in the bottom of a large pot. Add onion and cook for 5 minutes until translucent and softened. Add the garlic and cook for 1 minute. Use some of the liquid from the tomatoes to deglaze the pan, and then add the remaining ingredients. Use an immersion blender to puree, taking care to leave the tomatoes slightly chunky. (If you don’t have an immersion blender, you can add everything to a blender or food processor)

Bring to a boil and cook for 5 minutes, stirring frequently to keep from burning on the bottom. Reduce heat to low and cook for 1 hour or longer so that the marinara thickens as some of the liquid cooks out. Check seasoning prior to serving. Add salt as necessary.



Perfect Party Food: Charred 3 Onion Dip and Baked Pita Chips

To me, there’s nothing that says party like potato chips and dip. Take the typical chips and dip to a new level with smoky baked pita chips and my charred three onion dip. Also creamy and delicious on veggie sticks if you are trying to cut back on calories. Better make a double batch!


3 tablespoons olive oil

½ teaspoon smoked paprika

¼ teaspoon garlic powder

1 tablespoon kosher salt-divided

¼ teaspoon cracked black pepper

8 pita bread rounds

Preheat oven to 400 degrees

Combine all of the ingredients except ½ tablespoon of the salt in a small bowl. Whisk together. Brush on the first pita, stack the next one and repeat until you have 4 pitas. Repeat, making a second stack. Use a knife to cut the stack into eight wedges. Repeat with the second stack. Arrange the chips in a single layer on a baking sheet. Bake for 10 minutes; turn and bake another 5 minutes or until golden and toasted.

Sprinkle the chips with the remaining salt as soon as you remove them from the oven.


1 small red onion

6 scallions

1 cup Mascarpone cheese

2 cups sour cream

1 teaspoon chives

½  teaspoon onion powder

¼ tablespoon fresh lemon juice

½ tablespoon kosher salt

¼ teaspoon cracked black pepper

1 tablespoon Worcestershire

Dash Tabasco

Slice the onion into 4 wedges. Heat a grill pan. Cook the onions and scallions until they are softened and the outside is charred. Chop the scallions and slice the onion very thin. Put in a bowl. Add the remaining ingredients and mix together. Chill for at least 30 minutes before serving. 



SUPER GAME DAY MENU: Wings, Dips and Food Safety

Being a died in the wool Southerner, I have been to more than my share of game day and tailgate parties and I usually eat before I go. People ask me why I don't eat and I always say I'm too nervous or excited to eat but the fact is, I'm often scared to eat! I will often notice food not chilled or heated correctly and see cross-contamination that can result in a minor (or major) bout of food poisoning. Having been on the receiving end of food poisoning a couple of times, I always try to share tips on how to keep party food safe and I've teamed up with the USDA to try to help raise awareness about food safety so more party throwers will know how to prevent foodborne illness.

Boring? Maybe. Essential? Absolutely. Knowing how to keep my guests safe is at the top of my list of priorities. Watch the video and learn how to be party safe... recipes are below!

Food Safety for Game Day from Martie Duncan on Vimeo.


Food Safety for Game Day from Martie Duncan on Vimeo.


Let's get to the best part, the recipes. I do like to mix it up and serve something unexpected like my Ham and Cheese in Puff Pastry but guests love (and expect) the traditional wings, dips and chips. Here are a few of my own go-to favorites for your game day menu:

Fire Roasted Chipotle Chili- perfect for the slow cooker, this one is as easy as it gets and smoky delicious, too.

Fiery Diablo Chicken Wings- Make these as hot and spicy as you like by adjusting the amount of heat.

Charred Three Onion Dip-Easy peasy and so much more delicious than the store bought kind. Serve with veggie dippers if you are trying to cut some calories. Absolutely addictive!

Build a Bloody Mary Bar-Start with my Bloody Mary recipe and let guests customize their cocktails with all sorts of add-ons.

Homemade Guacamole-Because homemade guacamole and salsa contain lots of fresh ingredients, they can be two of the biggest culprits for foodborne illness. You have to make sure to wash every single item- even the ones you plan to peel. This is always a party favorite but make sure to chill well and offer a big serving spoon so guests don't stand and graze from the serving container. Since my mentor Alton Brown has the best guac recipe I've ever tried, let's use his. I see no point in recreating something that good. Get Sir Alton's guacamole recipe...




Easy Recipes for Puff Pastry: My Holiday Secret Weapon

Frozen puff pastry is my go-to secret weapon for the holidays. I keep it on hand for those situations when you have last minute guests or simply run out of time to get something made. Just keep a few boxes in your freezer for a delicious and elegant appetizer or dessert. Easy, impressive and fast; you will wonder how you lived without it. 

I recently taped a segment on easy holiday entertaining for NBC-13 in Birmingham, Alabama with Wendy Garner. Here are a few of the simple puff pastry recipes we showed:


I made this recipe for Food Network Star when I needed something using pastrami that would travel well and taste good served room temperature. This is best served warm and not hot straight from the oven. You can use just about anything you want inside the pastry. I used ham and cheese since it is an eternal favorite but you can use beef, pork or even vegetables. 

We taped these segments at the lovely The Sonnet House in Leeds, Alabama, a gorgeous venue for weddings and parties. Make this Ham and Cheese in Puff Pastry recipe or the Puffy Pastrami Party Squares I did for Food Network Star. So easy and very elegant. People just love it!


Who doesn't love those crispy little "elephant ear" cookies you find at the bakery? I am in love with them. But you don't have to go to the bakery any more. These are so easy and even more delicious when you make them with puff pastry.

1 egg

1 T water

1/3 cup granulated sugar

1/8 cup Demerara (raw) sugar

1 t. ground cinnamon

1 box puff pastry, thawed according to package directions but not thawed completely or it will be too difficult to handle


Prepare a sheet pan by lining it with parchment paper. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

Mix the two sugars together in a small bowl.

Make an egg wash by beating the egg with the water. Set aside.

Lightly dust the work surface and a rolling pin with flour.  Sprinkle the work surface with 2 tablespoons of the sugar mixture.

Open the first sheet of pastry and unfold it on top of the flour and sugar.

Add the cinnamon to the sugar. Sprinkle about half on top of the puff pastry. Use the rolling pin to lightly roll to press the sugar into the pastry.

Working with the short side of the pastry, fold the top towards the center. Repeat with the bottomof the pastry but leave a 1/4 inch of space in the center.

Sprinkle with more of the sugar and gently roll it into the pastry. Fold the top over the bottom. You will have a 4-layer narrow rectangle. Brush all of the seams with the egg wash.

Using a sharp knife, slice into 3/4" strips. Brush the edges with the egg wash. Place the strips 2" apart, cut side down on the prepared baking sheet. Sprinkle the tops with the remaining sugar.

Bake for 12 minutes or until golden brown. Remove to a cooling rack.


2 cups fresh or frozen strawberries

1 T. granulated sugar

2 T. Grand Marnier (optional)

1 cup whipping cream

1 cup marscapone cheese

1 T. vanilla

3 T + more Confectioners sugar (you will need some for garnish)

1 orange for a bit of juice and the zest (optional)

1 box of frozen puff pastry, thawed according to package directions


Preheat oven to 400. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.  

Clean, core and slice strawberries. Put in a bowl with the sugar and Grand Marnier. Set aside.

In a mixing bowl, combine the whipping cream, vanilla and 2-3 tablespoons of the Confectioners sugar plus 2 tablespoons orange juice (or use Grand Marnier) and 1 teaspoon orange zest. Beat on high speed until stiff peaks form. Fold in the marscapone cheese. Spoon into a piping bag. Refrigerate.

Dust the work surface with flour. Open one package of the puff pastry. Cut along the fold lines to make 3 pieces and cut each of those into 4 pieces. Repeat with the second package. Put on the baking sheet and bake for approximately 15 minutes or until golden brown. Let cool on a wire rack.

Split each of the puff pastry squares in half. Put the bottom halves on a serving plate. Pipe with whipping cream mixture.

Drain the strawberries. Add a layer on top of the whipped cream. Pipe some additional whipping cream and put on the top. Dust with powdered sugar.

Meet my sweet friends Jared and Corey from the Sonnet House and Geri-Martha Cornelius, a very talented pastry chef from Birmingham who helped us with the segment! Love you!!

Corey and Jared from The Sonnet House in Leeds, Alabama

My sweet friend and pastry chef, Geri-Martha!