New Can Be Good…

Who knew my mother was a revolutionary?  But she did date Sparticus, Joan of Arc, and Gandhi.

Last week I talked about my mom upending our decades-old Easter menu.  The baked ham, cold salad buffet was nixed, and in its place was a hot selection of Aunt Candy’s famous (and delicious) ziti, Aunt Polly’s butter beans, slow-cooked string beans, my carrot soufflé, and beef Stroganoff with buttered egg noodles.

It turned out to be a pretty tasty twist, and what was even better was the whole menu was make-ahead, and then finished right before dinner.  Almost every dish could have been made days in advance.My soufflé is easy; everything is thrown into a food processor, and it’s pretty, and even folks that aren’t crazy about carrots are crazy about this dish.

Carrot Soufflé

Prep: 5 min., Cook: 24 min., Bake: 1 hr.carrot souffle1 & 1/2 pounds carrots, peeled and sliced

3 large eggs

1 cup sugar

1/2 cup light sour cream

1/4 cup butter, softened

1/4 cup all-purpose flour

1 & 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

2 tablespoons vanilla (or one vanilla bean)

1/4 teaspoon nutmeg

Cook carrots in boiling water (add 1 tablespoon of the  vanilla {or the scraped pod-reserve the insides to mix into the soufflé } and 1/8 teaspoon of the nutmeg) to cover in a large saucepan 20 to 24 minutes or until tender. Drain well; cool.

Process carrots and eggs in a food processor until smooth, stopping to scrape down sides. Add sugar and remaining ingredients; process 30 seconds or until smooth. Pour mixture into a lightly greased 8-inch square baking dish.

 Bake at 350° for 55 to 60 minutes or until set and barely browned around the edges.  Because there is so much sugar, start checking after 45 minutes.Yield: Makes 6 servings.

The beef Stroganoff recipe came from a trip to my dad’s hometown of Pittsburgh.  We had dinner at my Aunt Eliza’s, and she made it for us.  I’ve tried making it a few times with elevated technique and ingredients.  But like other old-fashioned comfort food, it’s just better if you make it according to the old-fashioned directions.

This can be made a few days in advance.  Then on the day you serve it, put it into a slow cooker and let it slowly come up to temp while you get the rest of the dinner prepared.  It also works great in a chafing dish.

Beef Stroganoffstroganoff2 pounds sirloin tips, in bite-size pieces

2 beef bouillon cubes

3 or 4 cloves garlic, diced

½ yellow onion, chopped

½ cup sour cream

1 tablespoon sherry

2 cups water

1 pound mushrooms, sliced

3 tablespoons tomato paste

1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce

All-purpose flour


Salt & pepper

Season flour.  Put some butter into large frying pan and melt over medium heat.  Coat sirloin tips with flour and brown in butter. Put chopped onions and garlic in with meat to soften.  While meat cooks, heat water with bouillon cubes separately in a large pot.  When meat’s browned, empty skillet into bouillon-water along with sherry and turn to low, stirring often.  When meat is cooked-tender, melt a bit more butter in frying pan and cook mushrooms, then stir in tomato paste, sour cream, and Worcestershire. Cook a couple minutes, then add to pot with meat and combine.  Cook for about 10 minutes –bingo (the word bingo was actually in Mom’s recipe).

This is also really good on a chewy brown grain, like farro or barley.

Serves 4-6.

So, change is change, but, change is good.  I might have missed the potato salad, but I can make any number of versions any day of the week.

But the carrot soufflé, even though it’s easy-peasy, just screams “special occasion”.  And my mom’s beef Stroganoff, well, every bite is a little celebration.Thanks for your time.

When Life Gives You Lemons…

So, it very well may be the end of an era.

Every Easter, since the beginning of time, dinner has been ham, turkey, pasta and potato salads, baked macaroni and cheese, baked beans, and snowflake rolls (my mom and The Kid love those rolls, but I’ve always thought they had the consistency of stale doughnuts).

Usually, I make the ham and sometimes bring along my blueberry-speckled lemon cheesecake.  A few weeks ago, we were wandering through Costco, lurching from one sample to the next.  In the back at the bakery, they were sampling their key lime pie.  And it’s really good, y’all.  Not too sweet or sour.  Light, but luscious.

Anybody want a slice?  I got plenty.  Really.  Have some.  Please, I beg you, have a slice.  Or two.  Or fourteen.

For $12 you get a pie big enough to serve the entire population of Paduka, Kentucky; I couldn’t make it at home that cheap.  It’s perfect for Easter dinner.

I was also thinking about bringing the potato salad this year.

Lemon and dill are extremely spring-appropriate.  And the potato salad I was thinking of is a lemon potato salad.  It’s a twist on a recipe that is served at a favorite Greensboro deli, Jam’s.  I adore it, and years ago begged one of the owners for the recipe.

Here is that delicious potato salad, and their Reuben, which is also pretty darn kick-ass.

Their version has an unfortunate surfeit of celery.  And as any right-thinking human knows, celery in potato salad is an abomination.  It’s not quite as heinous as mustard or Miracle Whip, but it is pretty darn close.  They also put a large amount of white pepper in it.

They use the wrong brand of mayonnaise, too.  But because I don’t have it in me to engage in the Great Mayo Crusade of 2018, I’m not naming names.

And you can’t make me.

Lemon Dill Potato Salad

spud vinegar

3 pounds waxy potatoes

2 tablespoons cider vinegar

3-4 tablespoons salt


Place salt and vinegar in a large pot of water, along with unpeeled, whole potatoes.  Cook on medium until potatoes are fork tender.  Remove from heat, drain, and allow to cool completely.  Once cool, peel and cut into salad-sized chunks. 


lemon dressing

Juice of one lemon

2 eggs, hardboiled

½ yellow onion

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 cup mayonnaise

2 tablespoons fresh dill, chopped

Salt & pepper

To make dressing, place first four ingredients into food processor and blend until smooth.  Whisk in mayo and dill.  Season, taste, and re-season, if necessary.  Refrigerate for at least an hour.

Gently fold dressing into the potatoes, starting with about half.  Gradually add more until the consistency is to your liking.  Taste and re-season if necessary; don’t forget lemons, fats, and potatoes all need plenty of salt.

Cover and allow to rest in a cool dim place, but not in the refrigerator for 30-60 minutes before service so the flavors can meld and develop.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAServes 8-10.

So, here I am, ready to win Easter with my famous glazed ham, key lime pie, and killer potato salad.

Then, Mom called.

The menu of our normal buffet luncheon was completely changed.  No ham, no turkey, and no salads—including potato.  She had decided on a make-ahead dinner; beef Stroganoff (hers is actually incredibly delicious, almost makes up for the no potato salad), and Aunt Candy was bringing her famous ziti.

Okay…And no pie was needed either, she was making carrot cake and a chocolate icebox dessert.But I am constitutionally unable to go empty-handed.  I just can’t do it.  So, in keeping with the bunny theme, I shall be making the trip with the prepped ingredients for a double batch of my carrot soufflé.

Happy Easter, and I’ll look for you on the bunny trail.Thanks for your time.


Easter at my parents’ house this year was a culinary reenactment of the Civil War.Mom’s from New Jersey and my dad’s from Pittsburgh.  Jersey was also represented in her sister, Aunt Polly, and her brother and my Godfather, Uncle Sammy, and his wife Candy.My brother was born in Mobile, and his wife and daughters are NC born and bred.  Petey’s from a long line of Tar heels, and The Kid is 100% pure Durham. But, it was the food which starkly illustrated the North/South divide.

After decades of living in the south, Mom’s Easter spread was as traditional as seersucker and magnolia.  Ham, turkey, potato salad, baked macaroni and cheese, and all the other Dixie dishes you’d expect.

Then Uncle Sammy and Aunt Sandy arrived.  Maybe it’s a Jersey thing, but Sandy is also a lifelong member of the “OMG, what if there’s not enough food?” club, just like my mother.  She brought in piping hot pans of the kind of grub you’d get at a Yankee Easter spread.First up was ziti.  Ziti is the ham biscuit of the northern states.  Whenever there is any occurrence that necessitates the bringing of food; funerals, sickness, babies, there are pans of ziti.  Every well-stocked freezer has a pan or two; ready to go in the oven, or out the door.Although ziti is also a pasta shape the type of noodle in a pan of ziti is cook’s choice.  Both my aunt and mother favor rigatoni.  But I’ve made it with everything from actual ziti, to my fave, cavatappi; a long corkscrew-shaped, ridged tube.

Because I’m no fan of red sauce, I make ziti with my pink sauce.  But Candy’s dish is made with her own red sauce recipe, and was really tasty.  I asked her for the recipe, and she generously complied.

The second dish was stuffed zucchini.  I really liked it, but when I asked for this recipe, my suavity was turned up to 11.  I said, “I wasn’t expecting much, but I loved it…uh, I mean, uh…”.  Luckily, she’s met me and doesn’t really expect me to display a whole lotta tact and diplomacy, so she gave me this recipe, as well.Candy’s last dish was simply very thinly sliced kielbasa slow-cooked with sauerkraut in a crock pot.  It was amazing by itself, but it would be a revelation heaped onto a warm pretzel bun and slathered with mustard.

So the Easter dinner fare may have resembled a food-based dichotomy of the novel, North and South, but once we sat down to eat, it quickly transformed into an equal opportunity Appomattox. Because at that point, we all surrendered—to flavor.

Thanks for your time.

Easter zitisandy's ziti

2-28 ounce cans of tomato puree

2-28 ounce cans tomato sauce

2-28 ounce cans plum tomatoes, drained and run through food processor

1 teaspoon each, dried oregano and dried thyme

1 tablespoon dehydrated garlic

5 links sweet Italian sausage, removed from casings

1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese

Salt & pepper to taste

24 ounces tubed pasta, uncooked

Cook pasta in heavily salted water 2-3 minutes less than directions state (you want the noodles very, very al dente, so it will hold up to baking without turning to mush).

Place sausage meat in large heavy pot and brown.  Stir in all tomato products.  Add spices and garlic.  Bring to a simmer and season, taste, and re-season if needed.

Stir cooked pasta into sauce, then pour everything into a very large casserole dish.  Cover with foil and bake at 350 for twenty minutes.  Uncover and top with mozzarella cheese.  Bake 40 minutes more or until browned and bubbly.

Let sit at room temp for 15 minutes before service.  Serves 10-12.

Stuffed zucchinistuffed zucchiniPreheat oven to 350.  Slice 7 or 8 zucchini length-wise. Using a spoon scoop out seeds and pulp, and place pulp in a skillet along with ½ diced yellow onion and a spoonful of dehydrated garlic.  Cook in a little butter until the liquid is mostly cooked out and veggies are golden-brown.  Stir in enough Italian-style breadcrumbs to stiffen the stuffing.  Spoon stuffing into zucchini.  Bake uncovered about 40 minutes, until the zucchini is tender, and the stuffing has browned.  Serves 10-12.

Hold your ham

Abbondanza.My mother agonizes over each dish at each meal served at her table.  An Italian girl from Jersey, she was raised with “Mangia!” (Eat up!), and “Abbondanza!” (abundance).  The burning question in her mind is, will there be enough?

I offer this advice for all first time diners at Chez Mom.

If you want a lot more, tell her you only want a little.  If you want a little more, tell her you’re full.  If you truly can’t eat another bite; then run, run like the wind, Grasshopper.  But she’ll be ready and waiting for you at her door with a doggy bag large enough to feed you and your entire family until the cows come home, milk themselves, and buy a Dairy Queen franchise.So, there are regularly large quantities of leftovers at my parents’ house.

In my kitchen, except for sauces and gravies, which for some reason I always make too much of, we rarely have leftovers, except by design.  Either I have a plan to transform them into something different, it’s something we really like and relish eating again, or the nature of the dish works better made in quantity; like chili or soup.  Then they get packed up and frozen or are purloined by The Kid.

Throwing away food, to me is a personal failure. Image result for big easter hamAnyway, for holiday meals, my contribution is the ham.  It makes a big impact, feeds a lot of mouths, but is deceptively easy to prepare.  This year it was a 17-pounder.

When the last person took their last bite of dinner, there was at least ten or twelve pounds of ham left.  Everyone got a porcine parting gift.  And I got requests for recipes using that ham.

This has the elements of chicken Cordon Bleu but comes together easier.  You can make one large dish, or multiple smaller dishes, and freeze.

Chicken Cordon Bleu Rice bakecordon bleu rice bakeThe meat from ½ rotisserie chicken, cut into bite-size pieces

2 cups leftover ham, in bite-size pieces

2-6 or 7 ounce boxes long grain and wild rice, made according to directions

5 tablespoons butter + 2 tablespoons for breadcrumbs

½ yellow onion, chopped

4 tablespoons flour

3 cups low-fat milk

2 tablespoons Dijon mustard

½ cup shredded mozzarella cheese

1 cup shredded Swiss cheese + ½ cup for breadcrumbs

¼ cup chopped fresh parsley

1 cup breadcrumbs

Salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 350.  When rice is done, let sit covered until sauce is ready.

For cheese sauce melt 5 tablespoons butter in large heavy saucepan.  Add onion, season, and cook until it’s lightly golden, has released its liquid which has cooked off.  Add flour, and stir.  Cook on medium-low for five minutes to cook out raw flour taste.  Whisk in milk.  Cook on medium, whisking continuously, just until it begins to boil.  Stir in mustard, then cheese, a little at a time until it’s all in.  Season, check, and re-season if necessary.

For breadcrumb topping, melt the 2 tablespoons of butter, and mix with ½ cup Swiss and breadcrumbs.  Season.

Stir together chicken, ham, rice, parsley, and sauce.  Pour into greased dish, cover with foil and bake 20 minutes.  Uncover, top with breadcrumb mixture, and bake 40 minutes, or until golden brown and bubbly.Let sit 10 minutes before serving.  Serves 8.

While sandwiches are great, that leftover meat can be put to much more exciting uses.  And if you have any leftover Easter chocolate, give me a yell, and I can take it off your hands.

Just saying.Thanks for your time.

Wham, bam thank you ham

So have you ever driven past one of those ham stores, or worse yet, pulled in for a nice big holiday oinker?It looks like the release day of the new iphone and a 90% off shoe sale all in one little store in one little strip mall.  It’s a scene from a dystopian apocalyptic epic.  There are hundreds of cars and thousands of eager ham-seeking missile-people.  In the run up to ham-eating holidays some locations even have off-duty constables directing traffic.

And my mom used to put herself through that at least twice a year so she could have an impressive piece of pork as her holiday centerpiece.

But it came at a price, and I’m not just talking about the hefty monetary tab, though there is that.  From start to finish it took at least three or four hours.  And although my mom neither looks nor acts her age, in reality she’s a rheumatoid arthritis sufferer who went to sleepaway camp with Dolly Madison.  She never complained about the Herculean effort to put a ham on the table, but we knew it took a lot out of her.My mom is the kind of person that if she had $10 and you needed $20 and a lung, she would rip out a lung and steal ten more dollars.  So, if I could at least take the ham procurement off her list during holiday craziness, I at least had to try.

I’ve thought for years that my ham recipe came directly from Alton Brown.  But recently I looked over his recipe on, and discovered something.Very little of my ham came from that culinary mad scientist.

Other than the target temps and the multi-layer coating procedure, my recipe was something that I had unknowingly developed myself.  Unbeknownst to me, I’m a freaking kitchen genius—yeah, waaaay more freak than genius

The most important part of making a show-stopping Easter ham is the ham itself.So, two or three weeks before Peter Cottontail shows up, I call Regina at King’s Red & White (305 E Club Blvd Durham {919} 220-2192).  Everybody in the Bull City that knows good food shops there.  And what Regina don’t know about meat ain’t worth knowing.

This recipe will tie up your kitchen for most of the day, so plan accordingly.  But despite the oohs and ahs it will elicit, it’s deceptively easy to make.I wish you and yours a very Happy Easter.  And I hope you get all the chocolate you can handle (I never in my life met more chocolate than I could handle).

Debbie’s Holiday Ham

Takes 5-8 hours (approx.)                                                                     

For Glaze:2 cups jelly, jam, or marmalade, warmed and strained or 4 cups of the soft drink of your choice, reduced (cooked at a rapid boil) by half 

2017 ham glaze

2-3 tablespoons Dijon mustard

1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce

¼ cup balsamic vinegar

2 bay leaves

1 & ¼ teaspoon Chinese five-spice powder

1/8 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

One mini bottle of brandy rum or apple jack (optionl)

¼ teaspoon fresh cracked pepper

Combine ingredients, and simmer on low until it has reduced to thick, sticky syrup.  Cool.  This may be made days in advance.

4 cups chopped nuts. *match nuts to glaze, peach/peanut, orange/pecan, cherry/almond etc.

½ city ham, shank or butt endEquipment needed:

Large roasting pan

½ clean bath towel, or whole kitchen towel

Very sharp knife for cutting through skin


Pastry brush

Preheat oven to 250.  Line pan with towel.  Clean and dry ham.  Cut through skin and fat only in diamond pattern.  Place ham, cut side down, into towel-covered roasting pan.  Insert probe thermometer away from bone, set to 120.

Cover tightly with foil, and bake until temp.

Remove from oven, and remove foil.  Set oven to 325 or use low-temp broiler.  Using tongs, remove skin and thick pieces of fat.  Firmly brush on thick layer of glaze.  Press layer of nuts evenly over ham.  Insert probe into new spot for 140 and return to oven.

When temp’s reached, check to see that exterior looks toasted.  If not, under broiler, toast damp spots.

Remove from oven.  Allow to rest, lightly covered for thirty minutes.

Serve hot or cold.

Thanks for your time.

Pucker up

What’s better than lounging around your pool, drinking a thick, creamy, chocolate milkshake?  Or if you’d rather, a daiquiri; you be you.

How about Antonio Banderas holding that glass for you, and bringing the straw to your lips.

You know…I don’t even need the pool, the milkshake, or the boat.

What’s better than lounging around your pool, sipping on a drink held by Antonio Banderas?

Drinking from a glass held by Antonio Banderas while lounging around the pool on your disgustingly opulent yacht.

In that same vein, what’s better than a creamy lemon cheesecake?

full cheesecake

A creamy lemon cheesecake that’s unbelievably, insanely, easy to make, and topped with a lemony blueberry streusel, that’s what.

When I started cooking in earnest, I loved to pick up the little cookbooks in the checkout line in the supermarket.  My favorites are the Pillsbury Cook-Off booklets.  They have the top recipes from all categories.  I purchased my favorite, which I still have and use, in 1994.

Although there are quite a few dishes in it that I still prepare, there’s one recipe in it that I’ve made literally hundreds of times.  It alone was more than worth the price (which back then was all of $2.75).

As always, I played with it, tweaked a few things, and made the recipe my own.  The newest twist is the addition of blueberries.  I love them, but my mom’s really crazy for those navy nuggets.  She is whom I had in mind when I made the change.

It would make a terrific dessert for Easter dinner.  And it travels great, in case you’re doing dinner elsewhere.

Vanilla bean lemon cheesecake with blueberry streusel

lemon blueberry cheesecake


1-18.25 ounce package lemon cake mix

½ cup butter, softened

Zest of 1 lemon


2-8 ounce packages of cream cheese, softened

3 large eggs

1-8 ounce container lemon yogurt

1-16 ounce can lemon frosting

1 vanilla bean


1-2 cups fresh blueberries

Heat oven to 325 degrees. Lightly spray bottom of 9 or 10-inch spring form pan with non-stick cooking spray.  Place a piece of spayed parchment that is about 2 inches larger all the way around over the bottom, then clip the bottom and ring together, letting parchment hang outside. 

Blend cake mix, butter, and zest in large bowl at low speed until crumbly. Reserve 1 cup of crumb mixture for topping. Press remaining mixture into bottom and 1 ½ inches up sides of pan.  Using a metal measuring cup to help form it will get a smooth, even, crust.

Beat cream cheese, eggs, yogurt, frosting, and vanilla bean innards in same bowl at medium speed with whisk attachment until completely smooth. Pour into crust-lined pan. Very gently, one at a time, place the blueberries evenly on top.  Sprinkle reserved crumb mixture evenly over berries and filling.

Bake 1 to 1 ½ hours or until center is set, but slightly jiggly and edges are light golden brown. Cool 30 minutes. Run knife around sides of pan to loosen. Remove sides of pan, then carefully slide the parchment off the pan bottom onto serving plate and trim the excess paper. Refrigerate 2 hours before serving.  Slice with unwaxed dental floss or serrated knife dipped into very hot water.  Sliced thinly—and you really should, this serves 16.


Store leftovers in the fridge.

This makes a delicious lemon cheesecake.  But the only thing limiting the potential flavor is what kind of cake mix, frosting, and yogurt you pick.  You could also combine flavors, like chocolate and coffee, vanilla/pomegranate, or orange/caramel.

Heck, this fall you could go nuts and get your pumpkin spice on.


Or not.

Thanks for your time.