Shirley Temple Doesn’t Live Here Anymore

Petey and I were watching one of the new fall TV shows the other night.  A guy was in a bar drinking a whiskey on the rocks that cost $16.  Petey was shocked.

My poor spouse really needs to get out more.  Going out for a drink has become a seriously expensive endeavor.  Sixteen bucks is a touch steep, but around here, paying ten or twelve dollars for a fancy cocktail is pretty standard.

And going out for a drink is fun.  You get semi-dressed up.  A bar is a child-free environment; which can be a relief.  You’re out at night which is exciting.  And alcoholic beverages and bar food are tasty pure indulgences.

But there’s a hitch in that booze-soaked giddyup.  You’ve got to get semi-dressed up; is that sweater good for one more wear? is this the jacket the jelly doughnut exploded on? where is that other shoe?

No kids!  But that means finding a reliable sitter; not so old that the kids are taking care of them, or so young you need a sitter for the sitter, or nervous, or silly, or cranky, or insanely expensive.

There is excitement; getting lost, hunting for parking, and standing around in uncomfortable shoes waiting for a table to open up, then hoping a second drink will make the ridiculously-loud-thumping-music-induced-migraine go away.

But the drinks and eats are tasty.  And also contain enough calories, sodium, and fat to give you heartburn for a week, and make the chances of your jeans ever fitting again dicey at best. 

There is an alternative.

The Brits call them drinks parties.  Have a few carefully curated, charming friends over that will be amusing, but won’t drink so much that they pick a fight with the dog. 

Think sparkling and urbane, not drunken and naked.

You don’t need a huge buffet.  Have a cheese tray, put out a couple of bowls of Marcona almonds, and something sweet, like little shortbread rounds or chocolates.  That’s it.

Drinks are just as easy.  For the non-imbibers offer a pot of coffee and bottled water or juice.  Have an inexpensive sparkling wine, like Spanish cava.  And make one mixed drink.  Call it a “signature cocktail” and all of a sudden it looks chic and not cheap.  Here is the secret of a tasty, balanced cocktail from a former bartender: ratios. 

That’s it—ratios.  The best is 2 (alcohol) to ¾ (sweet) to ¾ (sour).  So, for something warm and comforting like Granny’s Medicine you’d mix 2 ounces Bourbon, ¾ ounces of honey simple syrup, and ¾ ounce lemon juice.

Simple syrup’s 1 cup sugar (or honey, maple syrup, or other sweetener) and one cup water, boiled until sugar’s melted.  To make an infused syrup, add the ingredient; fruit, herbs, spices like cinnamon or fennel seed, and lightly simmer for twenty-five minutes.  Then pour through a fine-mesh sieve.  A sweet syrupy liqueur counts as a sweet by itself, but you can use half simple syrup and half liqueur for more flavor.

Sour is citrus, green or black tea or water cut with some type of flavored vinegar.  Just remember to go easy at first; you want a pleasant drink, not an endurance contest.

For fall, maybe something warm like rum, apple pie spiced simple syrup and orange juice.  Or for Christmas; rye, chocolate liqueur and tart cherry juice spiked with lime.

And don’t forget a cool garnish.

Make what you like, that’s the whole point. You’re really only inviting other people so that you aren’t a poor lonely Susan, drinking alone with only your cat for company.

But that’s not us, we’ve got a social life and plenty of friends. 

Right?

Thanks for your time.

Contact debbie at d@bullcity.mom.

Three Recipes Within the Visual

Last month I made a jar of root beer jelly.

Nobody but me’s ever going in the fridge to look for it.  And unless my pooch Crowley grows thumbs, nobody else in this family will ever open the jar to eat it (bless their taste-deficient hearts).  But after I poured it into a jar, I decided it needed a label.

I have this giant, black hole of a junk drawer that I toss stuff into.  I don’t think I’ve actually gone all the way through it, ever.  So, I went mining for labels.

And, I found them—at the bottom.  Along the way, I found at least a hundred photos from the mists of time.  And while looking through them, I found three very beloved recipes that I had made peace with never seeing again.

The first recipe is for the best apple fritters I’ve ever eaten.  I thought I had recreated the recipe, and even shared it in an earlier column.  But it wasn’t even close. 

Mrs. Oldham’s Apple Fritters

2 cups Bisquick

1 large egg

1 teaspoon baking powder

½ cup sugar

Approximately ½ cup milk

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

½ teaspoon salt

½ teaspoon cinnamon

15 gratings of nutmeg

1 large peeled and chopped apple

Oil for frying

Glaze:

Whisk together 3 cups powdered sugar, 3-4 tablespoons milk, and a pinch of salt until smooth.

Stir together first nine ingredients, holding back some milk.  The dough should be the consistency of hush puppy dough.  Add more milk as needed, without overbeating.  Fold in apples. 

Let sit while you heat about 3 inches of vegetable oil in large heavy pot until it’s 350 degrees.  Using cookie scoop, drop generous tablespoons into heated oil (no more than six at a time), and cook for 2-3 minutes, turning occasionally until browned on all sides.

Remove with slotted spoon, and once it’s stopped sizzling, drizzle glaze over fritter.  Makes about 2 dozen.

The next recipe is for a crockpot tamale dip.  It’s from Loretta Jolly, via an Albemarle Hospital co-worker.  It’s a make-and-forget game-day superstar.

Chili Cheese Dip

1 pound Velveeta cheese

1-14 ounce can Armour Chili (no beans)

1-15 ounce can Hormel beef tamales

1 medium yellow onion, minced

1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce

1 tablespoon hot sauce

Throw everything into a crockpot, turn it on and bring to slow simmer.  Serve in the crockpot set to low. For service, top with shredded cheese, cover and let melt on top.

The last recipe is from family friend, Mama Cat.  She received it from her friend and fellow Coast Guard wife, Pat Csintayn.

Seafood Casserole

1 lb crab meat

1 lb cooked shrimp

1 small can mushrooms, drained

½ small green pepper, minced

½ cup minced onion

1 cup minced celery

1-6 oz box Uncle Ben’s long grain and wild rice

1 cup mayonnaise

1 cup milk

½ teaspoon each, salt & pepper

Dash of Worcestershire sauce

Cook rice, add first seven ingredients.

In separate bowl, mix mayo, salt & pepper, milk, and Worcestershire.  Add to rice mixture.

Pour into buttered 2-quart casserole dish and sprinkle with bread crumbs.

Bake at 375 for 30 minutes.  Serves 6-8, depending on course and side dishes.

These recipes, along with some from my mom, made up the foundation of my first adulting cooking repertoire.  They’re simple and easy, but each makes an impact.

But, these dishes still hold up.  Add a fresh baguette and a simple salad, and this could be a kind of training-wheels dinner party.  Who doesn’t love a fresh apple fritter?

Or, singly, each could be a welcome respite from the familiar family food playbook.  Hunger may season all dishes, but surprise gets them to the table quicker. 

Thanks for your time.

Contact debbie at d@bullcity.mom.

Wine & Dine

When I was a kid, you could buy wine and beer at eighteen.  Once I came of age, I was legal to buy and drink any and all alcoholic beverages not sold at the ABC store.

Most of my friends cleaned out the beer coolers on a regular basis.  But I don’t like the taste.  There, I’ve said it.  The Kid is a beer nerd and often offers me a taste of something, “I think you might actually like this one!  It’s a vanilla-blueberry-Cap’n Crunch-flavored IPA!”.

Yeah, nope.

But when I turned eighteen, I could lawfully purchase alcohol, so I kinda had to.

I turned to wine.  My drink of choice was Boone’s Farm Tickle Pink.  And it was worth every penny of the ninety-nine pennies it cost.  A Kool-Ade-flavored hangover for less than a dollar.  

It’s entirely possible the photographer had indulged before this photo was taken…

But, as I got older, my taste in wine matured, as well.

I discovered German Rieslings.  Then I found dry French whites, settling on my favorite of Chateau de Montfort’s Vouvray.  I buy a bottle every once in a while, for special occasions.

There are three wines though, that I always have on hand.  I use them for cooking.  First is a sherry, then a light, dry white.  Almost anything will do; lately, it’s been Trader Joe’s Espiral, a super fresh effervescent white.  And lastly, dry Marsala. 

This Italian wine is my favorite for cooking.  It has a distinctive, smoky, caramelized flavor.  I love it and use it in anything with mushrooms or tomato. 

The other night I used it in an experimental pasta dish.  The flavors of mushroom, tomato, and cream were familiar. 

The pasta cooking technique was not. 

It’s a take on those one-pot pastas which instead of cooking in a large pot of water are cooked in a smaller amount of stock that cooks entirely into the noodles along with sauce ingredients.  I made the sauce separately so I could brown the veg and get a creamy mouth-feel.  I then married the two together right before service.

One-Pot, Two Pot Mushroom & Corn Marsala Pasta

Pasta:

1-7 oz. bag of small pasta (I used vermicelli)

I tablespoon butter

2 cups + 1 tablespoon chicken stock

1 teaspoon kosher salt

Big pinch of pepper

Melt butter in a large skillet.  Add pasta and cook over medium heat, stirring frequently, until it’s caramel brown and smells toasty.  Watch this and don’t let it burn.  Add stock, salt, and pepper.  Bring to a low boil and cook until it’s al dente and the liquid has cooked in, but it’s silky and stir-able.

Sauce:

1 lb. mushrooms, cleaned and sliced

1 small yellow onion, chopped

1 ½ cups frozen white shoepeg corn, thawed

1 teaspoon dried thyme

¼ teaspoon dried rosemary

Salt & pepper 

2 tablespoons butter

1 tablespoon tomato paste

1/3 cup dry Marsala

½ cup shredded Parmesan

1 ½ cup 2% or skim milk

¼ cup heavy cream

Sautee vegetables in the butter with thyme and rosemary.  When the veg are lightly browned, stir in tomato paste.  When paste has darkened, deglaze with Marsala.  When the wine’s cooked in, add cheese and dairy.  Bring to low boil and allow to reduce to sauce-like consistency.  Season to taste.  Turn to medium-low.

Assembly:

Gently stir cooked pasta into sauce until coated.

Serves 6.

Another terrific thing about this dish.  Leftovers nuke up beautifully.  Just add a splash or two of milk and it’s almost as silky and unctuous as freshly made.

And it’s a good thing I lost my taste for Tickle Pink.  Sometime in the last thirty years or so, they wised up and stopped making it.

Thanks for your time.

Contact debbie at d@bullcity.mom

Sweet E-π

Gentle Reader, I can be a real jerk.

Not this kind of jerk.

No, really (here’s where we both pretend you don’t believe I possess Queen of the Buttheads tendencies).  It’s true—I promise.

The subjects about which I can be irritating, bordering on insufferable are legion.  Whole body cringe is not a strong enough phrase to use when I think about the multiple occasions when I sounded completely filled to the overflowing with donkey dung.  But today we’ll only focus on one particular instance.

It was a Southern cooking bias.  And, I apologize, so very, very much.

I thought it was cheap, greasy, unimaginative food, made by bad cooks who only used salt, pepper, and sugar for flavor.  There was too much organ meat and not enough ability.  

Fortunately, I learned about food and ate at the table of a passle really wonderful Southern cooks and chefs.  People who cooked with skill and joy.

This kind of cooking doesn’t rely on trendy, expensive ingredients.  It’s working people food.  It’s the food you cook when you have more time than money.  It’s honest, fresh components, cared for and coaxed into poetry.

It was farm to table before farm to table was cool.

A couple months ago I attended a community potluck at the church of my friends Maxie and Mark.  Mark asked me to come and judge the dessert contest they were having.  And thank goodness I said yes. 

Because, as a judge, I had to taste every single confection.  And one of the offerings was a sweet potato pie.  Normally, I wouldn’t have had a slice.  I don’t hate it, but I don’t didn’t have any love for it. 

Lucky for me, that night it was my responsibility to try at least a couple bites of every sweet on that dessert table.

Otherwise I never would have tasted the world’s greatest sweet potato pie.  The sweet potato in this pie is caramelized which completely changes the taste and texture.  It’s so good, I snuck out of that church basement with a hunk that I nibbled on for three days. 

It was totally worth the risk of somebody dropping a dime on me and getting arrested and convicted for pie purloining.    

It took a couple of weeks, but my friends got the recipe.  Here it is, exactly.

Mama Bertha’s Sweet Potato Pies Recipe

My mom, Bertha Hamilton, received this recipe in the 1970’s from a coworker named Cybil Levan. And while my mom has been making these pies and receiving rave reviews for decades, she wanted me to make sure and give proper credit where credit is due…thank you, Miss Cybil.

Ingredients:

1 40-ounce can of sweet potatoes

2 deep dish pie crusts (works well with graham cracker crusts also—gives it a totally different taste)

1 stick butter

1 ½ cups of sugar

1 14-ounce can of sweetened condensed milk

3 eggs

1 tsp vanilla

1 tsp lemon juice

Preparation

Preheat oven to 350 degrees

Open and drain potatoes

In a pan, sauté sugar, butter, and potatoes on medium until sugar and butter both completely melt.

Pour them into a blender.

Add condensed milk (to cool mixture before adding eggs).

Beat eggs and pour them into blender along with vanilla and lemon.

Blend until it’s smooth.

Evenly pour into pie crusts.

Bake 35-45 minutes just until crust browns.

I’ve had the recipe for three months, but this pie seems to be more appropriate for the fall.  I’ve waited for cooler weather to share it, but the weather hasn’t wanted to cooperate.  I hope by writing about it now, I can drag the autumn, kicking and screaming, into NC.

Thanks for your time.

Contact debbie at d@bullcity.mom.

An Okra Walked Into A Bar…

This week was going to be the week I finally gave out the recipe for the world’s greatest sweet potato pie.  The life-changing pie that I had at my friend Maxie’s church potluck.

Honest, this pie made me, who’s never been a fan of sweet potato pies literally steal a piece to take home for later, then ration each bite so it took me three days to eat.

But I changed my mind (the pie’s coming next week—I promise).

Even though I may come off like I have this exciting, glittering social life, unless it’s the grocery store or library, I honestly don’t get out much.  The last time I was at the movies, Greta Garbo was the next big thing.

They all had 1990s skinny eyebrows in the 1930s…

Well, Friday night, I went with a friend, to a bar.

It was a wild, frenzied night of abandon.  We each had one alcoholic beverage and shared two appetizers (I know, I need to calm down from my hard-partying, rock star ways.).

I had something delicious with blueberry and rum to drink.  One plate was poutine, a French-Canadian delicacy comprised of French fries covered with cheese curds and brown gravy—it truly is food of the gods, and this place makes the best.

Hummina hummina.

But the second item is the reason you won’t be getting that sweet potato pie recipe this week.

It was okra.  I thought that cornmeal coated, fried okra was this poor, misunderstood, and maligned vegetable’s highest calling.  But I was wrong.  It’s the okra we had Friday night.

Okra is such an ancient vegetable that no one actually knows where it first grew; either Africa or Asia.  But it’s no mystery that Africans brought it to America where it’s been growing for so long in the South that Thomas Jefferson wrote about it.

Growing okra is not for the faint of heart.  It must be tended by hand, in the heat of the summer.  There are spines on it which cause some people to swell and itch.  The roots are shallow, so you must take care weeding and harvesting as not to damage it.  Okra grows up to six feet so there is much stooping and reaching.  And if you wait too long to gather it, it becomes too tough and woody to eat.

You know, I love okra, but I don’t think even I love it this much.

And the eating of it brings another stumbling block.  There’s no pretending or camouflaging it, okra has an unapologetic green, earthy, vegetal flavor.  And then, of course, there’s that texture.  In scientific parlance, it’s called mucilage.  Most of us know it as slime.  That’s why the favored preparation is breading and frying.  It all but eliminates the s-word. 

Is that not glorious?

It’s almost as if okra’s daring us to love it.

But if you don’t love this okra dish, there’s no hope for you.

Cast Iron Skillet Okra

1pound okra, cleaned and cut in half, lengthwise

1 tablespoon vegetable oil

Kosher salt, to taste

Preheat oven to 180 and place a shallow oven-proof dish inside.

Put ½ tablespoon of oil into cast iron skillet and heat to medium-high.  Lay half the okra, cut-side down into skillet in single layer and cook for 4 minutes.  When it’s very browned, flip over and cook 2 minutes more, until tender.  Then sprinkle with half the salt and toss lightly to make sure each okra’s salted.  Place in dish in oven to wait and cook the second half.

Serves 2-4.

So, here’s the thing.  This stuff is so good, so easy, that if you don’t try it, you’ve got only yourself to blame.  But I won’t be mad, I’ll just be disappointed.  Disappointed, over here in the corner, eating this wondrous okra.

Thanks for your time.

Contact debbie at d@bullcity.mom.

The Whistle Stop Café Has Been Burgled

I stole a tomato—sort of.

We’ve known neighbors Tim and Misha forever.  Their son Mick, daughter Noelle, and The Kid all went to preschool together. 

I love Misha because she has a big heart and tells it like it is.  And, Tim really reminds me of my dad.  He can’t stand to sit still.  He’s always doing something in the yard, fixing something, walking their dog, Cosmo.

Crowley

Both he and Misha are dog people and are on our pooch Crowley’s list of humans he adores.  His whole body wiggles and his ears drop down, parallel to the earth as he rushes up to smoosh his head on their hips with his huge noggin (It’s his version of a hug). 

The other day Tim was outside when we went by, and after Crowley finished losing his mind, Tim offered me a couple green tomatoes.  They were growing in a large pot next to his front porch, and he had tons.

I thanked Tim, and he told me I could have all I wanted.  I decided I’d fry them.

The thing is, I’ve never actually made fried green tomatoes before.

In the parlance of tech savvy youth, this is called a fail.

I started to think a spare would be a good idea in case my novice effort resulted in having the first batch go wonky, like with pancakes.  The next morning, I grabbed another tomato in case of trouble, and left them a note.

This is just sad.

The biggest problem with fried green tomatoes is that often, most of the coating falls off—I hate that.  That’s why I got them breaded and let them hang out in the fridge hours before cooking.  I hoped the crust would set up and not flake off while cooking—it worked.

First, I dusted them with heavily seasoned flour.  I used buttermilk for the middle/wet step because it’s creamy and it gives food a delicious tang.  For the outer layer, I chose crushed Ritz crackers.  They’re buttery and sweet, which plays well against the sour astringency of green tomatoes.

Stolen Fried Green Tomatoes

3 firm green tomatoes, sliced into ¼ inch slices (10-12 slices)

2 cups flour heavily seasoned with salt and pepper

2 cups fat-free buttermilk

1 & ½ sleeves of Ritz crackers, crushed

For frying: vegetable oil

Salt for sprinkling on finished tomatoes

Four hours before cooking, bread tomatoes; first coat in flour, then buttermilk, then cracker crumbs, making sure they’re completely and thickly covered.  Cover loosely with plastic warp and refrigerate at least 4 hours.

To fry: Heat oven to 175 and place a cookie sheet with a cooling rack inside.  This is where the finished tomatoes will wait. 

Put about ¼ to ½ inch of vegetable oil into cast iron skillet and heat on medium.  When a pinch of cracker crumb sizzles, carefully place in about four or five tomato slices—if you crowd them, they’ll never get nice and crispy.  You don’t have to rush, you have a landing area in the oven.

Fry first side until golden-amber, then using spatula and fork, carefully turn over and fry the other side.  As each one finishes, place on cooling rack in oven and lightly sprinkle with salt. 

They were so good, we ate them all because I’d made no duds.  And next time The Kid comes for dinner we’re making pimento cheese and fried green tomato sandwiches, just like Granny’s sells at the State Fair (WooHoo! State Fair! Next month! Can’t wait!).

After dinner I called Tim and Misha to thank them and offer to make some for them.

Misha’s from New York.  She passed.

Bless her poor Yankee heart, she doesn’t know what she’s missing.

Thanks for your time.

Contact debbie at d@bullcity.mom.

Perfect, Brilliant, & Jubilant

Our last day of Lad and Lassie kindergarten in Mobile Alabama, we had a theme party.  The theme was an airline flight.  This was back when men wore suits, ladies wore hats and dresses, and kids wore their Sunday best to fly. 

Our “flight” had attendants bearing 1970s party refreshments like popcorn balls and cupcakes.  One genius mom had made up a stack of fancy peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, cut into neat triangles with the crusts removed.  But the best part was the jelly.  These sandwiches were made with apple jelly.  The warm, mellow apple flavor is the perfect, and I mean perfect, foil to creamy, smoky peanut butter.

From that day forward, I was a convert.

I always pick up new and interesting flavor of jams, jellies, and preserves whenever I find them.  The store Home Goods is a terrific resource.  They have tons of unusual types, and at outlet prices.

All that jelly used to just go on toast and biscuits.  Then I found Fogwood Farm’s Balsamic grape hull jam.  It’s spicy, sweet, and delicious on a sandwich. 

Since that day I eat a couple nut butter/jelly sandwiches a week.  But I mix it up constantly, so much so that the only versions I have more than once every month or so are my faves that I keep on repeat.

For a great PB&J sammich, there are a few things I strongly recommend.

Bread: Fresh and soft, but robust.  Most grocery stores have a multi-grain sandwich loaf that is Wonder Bread-soft with a long shelf life. 

Nut butter:  The very best peanut butter is Reese’s.  It’s creamy, delicious, and 400 zillion peanut butter cups can’t be wrong.

Big Spoon has an amazing line-up, I love the pecan peanut.  But, they’re gourmet nut butters, which mean they’re pricey.  For me, they’re special occasion sandwiches.

Simons Says flavored nut butters (sold in gourmet shops and local farmers markets).  As smooth as James Bond on a slip-&-slide.  They grind their butters for hours, then flavor them.  My favorite is the hazelnut orange, which remind me, in the very best possible way, of Pillsbury orange rolls.

Sun butter: Made from sunflower seeds.  It’s salty, sweet, unctuous, and brings an unexpected note to a sandwich.  Most supermarkets sell a jar for up to eleven dollars, but Trader Joes comes to the rescue again for $4.89 apiece.  Store it out of fridge upside down so when you open it, it’s easier to spread after just a quick stir.

Jams, jellies, and preserves: Go nuts here; homemade, old school grape, something cheap, or some type of gourmet concoction.  I’ve no desire to judge another human’s PB&J choices.  I frequently eat root beer jelly (What?!?).  So, good; spicy, sweet, and holds up to all other flavors in the sandwich.

Root Beer Jelly

½ bottle or can of your favorite root beer

1-18 ounce jar of apple jelly

1 teaspoon root beer concentrate

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 teaspoon salt

Put the root beer in a heavy pot and cook on a boil until it’s thickened to a syrupy consistency.  Add jelly and cook until it’s smooth and thickened slightly (it will get thicker as it cools).  Stir in concentrate, vanilla, and salt.  Take off heat and let sit until it’s cool enough to pour into a jar.  Keep refrigerated.

This jelly makes an awesome ham glaze, with mustard, Worcestershire sauce, and Chinese five-spice powder.

A nut butter and jelly sandwich is childhood comfort food.  But, add some thought and a little imagination and it becomes something else—fancy finger food for glamorous old school (old school, get it?) airplane travel.

Thanks for your time.

Contact debbie at d@bullcity.mom.

Pantry Raid

Famous for their navy beans…and a few other things.

It all started with a free can of navy beans and a bag of frozen meatballs.

The meatballs were extras from The Kid’s birthday dinner.  They’re kind of complicated and labor-intensive to prepare, so I always make tons, and freeze what doesn’t go into the birthday pink sauce.

I love the extra meatballs cooked slowly in Sweet Baby Rae’s barbecue sauce and topped with melted sharp Cheddar and sprinkled with shards of crispy bacon.  I serve them with macaroni and cheese, and roasted broccoli.

Sounds delicious, right?

Well, Petey, normally the least picky of men, is not a fan so the barbecue prep is very infrequent.  I’m always looking to come up with something different as a replacement.

I love farro.  So, I decided to make a one-pot meal with farro, the meatballs, and to take the opportunity to use up some pantry odds and ends, like the navy beans—my local co-op was giving a can to members every time we shopped there in August.  And, the bit of spinach I had which was too old for salad but not enough for a full side dish. 

If you don’t have a bag of homemade frozen meatballs, most supermarkets sell them in their freezer section.  Really though, you can use this recipe as a jumping off place.  Use your own leftovers and bits and bobs.  Farro is not only awesome tasting, it plays well with almost any guest stars—you can even go sweet with it, and have it for breakfast, ala porridge.

Farro and meatballs

½ cup dried mushrooms

rehydrated in

3 cups chicken stock

3 cups water

splash of Worcestershire sauce

1 teaspoon dry thyme

¼ teaspoon dried rosemary

1 ½ teaspoons umami powder (such as Trader Joe’s) or 1 anchovy and extra splash of Worcestershire

Bring all ingredients to slow boil then cover and let sit off heat for at least thirty minutes.  Then drain over cheesecloth or double layer of paper towels in fine mesh sieve, reserving the liquid for cooking the farro. 

Give the mushrooms a very brief rinse, then chop very finely. 

And, the rest of the story

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 yellow onion, chopped

2 cups farro

2 tablespoons tomato paste

2/3 cup Marsala wine

1 can navy beans, drained

2 teaspoons honey

zest from one lemon

2 bay leaves

2 big handful spinach or other cooking greens such as kale or collards

18 small meatballs

Heat olive oil in large heavy pot with a tight-fitting lid.  Add mushrooms and onions and sautee until the liquid has cooked out and the veg are lightly browned.  Stir in farro and cook until it has begun to toast.  Add tomato paste and cook until the paste has darkened in color and there’s lots of browning on the bottom of the pot.

Stir in Marsala, scraping up all the bits (called fond) on the pot.  Cook until almost all the wine’s cooked out. Add reserved stock, beans, honey, lemon zest, bay leaves and greens.

Place the meatballs evenly on top, nestling into the farro.

Cover and lower to medium-low.  Cook 45-60 minutes or until the liquid has cooked out and the farro is cooked.  Take off heat and let sit, covered for 20 minutes.

Makes 4-6 hearty servings. 

This turned out so tasty.  Petey and I ate way too much the first night, and The Kid stole a large portion of the leftovers to take home.  Add a little liquid and it nukes up beautifully.

And if it was good in the middle of a hot, sticky NC summer, imagine how toasty and satisfying it would be one cold winter’s night.

Thanks for your time.

Contact debbie at d@bullcity.mom.

It’s a Two-fer!

I always forget how much I love eggplant until I eat it.  Then I wonder why I don’t eat it more often. 

There are a few good reasons: eggplant is best in the summer; from the farmers market or your own garden.  It’s uber-delicate, and gets bruised at the slightest bump, or even a harsh word directed its way.  And cooking it’s usually a complicated, messy pain in the keister.   

This week marks the final week of the Local Dish series with two delicious recipes made from NC products. 

First up is a delicious soup with a deceptively fancy name.  The eggplant dish, we’ll get back to.

Le’CHOP Soup 

Servings: 4

Prep Time: 20 minutes

Total Time: 45 minutes

2 Tbsp. avocado oil

1 leek, light green and white parts, finely chopped

1 cup swiss chard stems, finely chopped

1 habanero pepper, seeded and finely chopped

1 sweet yellow onion, finely chopped

4 cups chicken stock, divided

1 potato, diced

1 cup buttermilk

1 Tbsp. onion powder

1 Tbsp. garlic powder

Salt and pepper to taste

In Dutch oven, heat avocado oil on medium-high heat, then add leek and swiss chard. Cook for 3 minutes until softened. Add habanero and onion and cook until onion’s translucent. Move contents to a bowl.

With Dutch oven still hot, deglaze with ½ cup chicken stock. Add remaining chicken stock and bring to light boil and add potatoes. Cook for 15 minutes. Reduce heat to low and stir in onion and garlic powder. Add cooked vegetable mixture back into Dutch oven and simmer for one minute. Remove from heat.

Pour half of mixture into a food processor, blend and pour into bowl. Add remaining vegetable mixture to food processor and blend slowly, while adding buttermilk. Pour back into Dutch oven, add salt and pepper, stir then heat on low to warm back up. Or use submersible blender.

Garnish with chives and small dollop of sour cream.

Lisa’s Notes: This is a great way to use leeks and chard. If you aren’t a fan of the heat, leave out the habanero or try a jalapeno. The stems can be a little bitter so try using the leaves instead. We liked leaving some potatoes chunky when blending. Domino Ireland won first place with this delicious soup in the NC Vegetable Growers Contest at the NC State Fair.

And, finally, the eggplant.  This is the easiest to make eggplant recipe I’ve had the pleasure to eat.  It’s also the most forgiving.  It’s cut into cubes and roasted, so it doesn’t need to be perfect, blemish-free, straight from the garden eggplant.  You could make this in the middle of February and the dish would be just as tasty as mid-August.

Debbie’s notes: If you enjoy them, capers are a terrific addition.  The briny Mediterranean flavor is perfect with this recipe.  And when cold, the dish makes for a perfect bruschetta.  

Roasted Eggplant

1 Eggplant, diced ¼”-1/2” thick with skin on

1 Tbsp. olive oil

Salt and pepper to taste

2 Tbsp. lemon juice

2 Tbsp. kalamata olives, sliced

2 Tbsp. green olives sliced

2 Tbsp. Feta, crumbled

1 Tbsp. fresh parsley, chopped

Pre-heat oven to 400 degrees. In medium size bowl, combine eggplant, olive oil, salt and pepper. Pour onto baking sheet and roast for 30 minutes.

Once done, return to bowl and toss with remaining ingredients. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Lisa’s Notes: The dish can be enjoyed hot or room temperature.

I hope you enjoyed my adventures with television.

I’ll be back next week with the best dish I’ve invented in years.  And it’s made with only things I had on-hand. 

Thanks for your time.

Contact debbie at d@bullcity.mom.

The Great Zucchini

Think of it as a versatile, delicious little black dress.

Only it’s very dark brown instead of black, and it’s not a dress, but a cake.  But otherwise…

This is week three of dispatches from my adventures when I joined Lisa Prince and WRAL’s Brian Shrader as they prepared and filmed four recipes for Local Dish, WRAL’s cooking segment that airs each Friday on the noon news.

This week’s chocolate cake, y’all.

In keeping with the summer produce theme, this is a zucchini cake.  And there are two really important things that I need you, Gentle Reader, to take from this essay.

The first is the importance of cooking time.  There is a little butter and four eggs in this cake, but no other fat.  So, most of the moisture comes from the grated zucchini and the applesauce in the recipe.    

Which means, if you overcook it, you will get a dry result that will stick in your throat and make you sad.  It cooks for 60-70 minutes, but you should start checking it at 55 minutes.  As soon as a toothpick comes out clean but moist, get it out of the oven.  And after it’s been out for 10 minutes, get it out of that pan.

The second thing is, once it’s cool you can top it with anything from powdered sugar to a decadent vanilla fudge icing topped with crushed Oreos.  You can go simple and use whipped cream or a couple scoops of vanilla ice cream.  Or let the ice cream melt.  It then becomes a fancy custard sauce called crème Anglaise.  Set the cake on a puddle of that (for crème Anglaise use an ice cream containing only milk, cream, eggs, sugar, vanilla, and maybe a pinch of salt).

Here are two of my favorite toppings.

Mama Cat’s Vanilla Fudge Icing

½ cup butter

1 cup granulated sugar

¼ cup milk

Heat ingredients in saucepan until it begins to boil.  Let cool slightly and mix in 1& 3/4 -2 cups sifted powdered sugar, and 2 teaspoons vanilla.

Pour over fully cooled cake and top with crushed Oreos (optional) or anything else you’d like.

Mom’s Fudge Glaze

6 tablespoons butter

4 tablespoons cocoa

3 cups powdered sugar

6 tablespoons milk

2 teaspoons vanilla

In saucepan, melt butter.  Stir in cocoa until dissolved.  Mix in sugar.  Add milk and vanilla; whisk until smooth. 

Pour over cooled cake and allow to set.

The cake calls for cinnamon, but you could also tweak it with things like cayenne or espresso powder.

 Chocolate Zucchini Bundt Cake  

2 ¼ cups all-purpose flour

¼ cup unsweetened cocoa powder

2 ½ tsp. baking powder

1 ½ tsp. baking soda

1 tsp. salt

1 tsp. ground cinnamon

1 cup sugar

½ cup butter, room temperature

4 eggs

¾ cup unsweetened applesauce

1 Tbsp. vanilla

2 cups shredded zucchini

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Generously coat bottom and sides of 9 to 12 cup Bundt pan with cooking spray.

Mix flour, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda, salt and cinnamon in bowl.  Set aside. Beat sugar and butter with mixer until light and fluffy. Beat in eggs, one at a time, applesauce then vanilla.

Reduce mixer to low. Beat in dry ingredients until blended. Fold in zucchini.

Pour batter into prepared pan. Bake for 60-70 minutes or until done. Cool on wire rack 10 minutes.  Remove from pan and allow to cool completely before topping.

This cake also travels really well for picnics and potlucks; or wrap a slice and tuck it into a bagged lunch.  With both zucchini and apple sauce in it, you could almost call it healthy with a straight face.

Thanks for your time.

Contact debbie at d@bullcity.mom.