The Kid’s Birthday Cake

Except, it’s not actually a cake.

Disturbing, no?

In 1963 Jello published a cookbook called, The Joys of Jello.  In it are all the whack-a-doodle recipes that you would expect for a gelatin cookbook from that dark period of our culinary history.

Cthulhoid jello salad

There’s the Apple Tuna Mold: A molded salad with apples, tuna, and celery set into lime gelatin.  Another winner is Vegetables in Sour Cream: veggies molded into lemon Jell-o with bullion, sour cream, and vinegar.  And, lest we forget, this nightmare: Barbecue Salad: A regular tossed salad, but with barbecue-flavored Jell-o cubes on top.

It’s no wonder that when children that were raised on this techno-colored dreck got older they did so many drugs.  After a supper of cottage cheese salmon mold we’d all probably want to chemically erase any memory of that meal.


Also in that cookbook was a little something called Strawberry-Pretzel salad.  This recipe had as much to do with salad as a sponge cake has to do with that thing you use to wash dishes.

This is a light version of a cheesecake.  And for something so simple, it takes the concept of balance to high art.

The pretzel crust is crunchy and sweet/salty.  The next layer is creamy, fluffy, and sweet.  Finally, the jello layer is cool, sweet, with the lightly sour pop of strawberries.

For someone who’s not an over-the-top sweet lover, it’s the perfect dessert.  But it’s so good that even someone with a sweet tooth the size of the rock of Gibraltar loves it (ahem, yeah, that would be me).

Thanks for your time.

Contact debbie at

Strawberry Pizza

(for some reason, we’ve always called it strawberry pizza)


Heaping 2 cups of crushed pretzels

¾ cup melted butter (1 ½ sticks)

3 tbsp sugar

Kosher salt

Bake at 400°.

Mix butter and sugar, then mix in pretzels.  Sprinkle a small pinch of salt on top before baking.  Press into a 9×13-inch glass dish with high sides, or two smaller casserole dishes with higher sides—you need enough room to cover all three layers and the strawberries without smooshing it.  Alternatively you could cook them in individual ramekins, jam jars, or muffin tins.  I think you could get about 8-10 minis from this recipe.

Bake for 8 minutes and let cool completely.


(Sometimes I make a larger amount for this part; this is my favorite layer.)

2-8 oz package cream cheese, softened

1 cup sugar

1-8 oz tub of Cool Whip, thawed

1 tablespoon vanilla

1/2 teaspoon salt

To make a thicker layer: use 1 1/2 cup sugar, 3 blocks cream cheese, and 12 or 16 oz tub of cool whip, thawed

Mix together softened cream cheese and sugar until smooth (an immersion blender is especially helpful in getting the cream cheese smooth.

Fold in Cool Whip. 

Spread evenly on top of cooled crust, making sure the mixture has no gaps around the side.  The Jello will sneak through those gaps and leak onto the pretzels, making them soggy.  Place and fridge and let chill and set up (at least 2 hours).   

Topping :

1 large box strawberry gelatin

1-16 oz package frozen strawberries

2 cups boiling water


Whisk gelatin into boiling water until completely dissolved.  Add frozen strawberries to the hot jello.

When the strawberries are thawed remove them from the jello with tongs, and place evenly onto the cream cheese layer and gently press them into place.

Dusseldorf, By Way of Eastern NC

“So, are you doing a pulled pork thing?”

That was Chef Chrissie when I told him I was cooking chunks of pork butt low and slow.

“No, I’m going in a German direction, with mushrooms and a mustard cream sauce.”


Pork in Mustard Cream

2 pounds frozen pork shoulder, with most of the fat removed and cut into 2-3 inch chunks

Dry Brine

½ teaspoon salt

¼ teaspoon pepper

2 teaspoons fresh rosemary, finely chopped

1 teaspoon dry thyme

½ teaspoon dry mustard

24-48 hours before cooking, place the still frozen pork into a large zip-top bag.  Sprinkle with dry brine, seal bag, and massage all over the pork.  Store in fridge, and each time you go into the kitchen, massage the bag to evenly distribute the brine.  As the pork thaws, the meat will be infused with the flavor of the brine.


1-2 pounds mushrooms, cleaned and sliced

1 large yellow onion, chopped

½ teaspoon dried thyme

1 teaspoon fresh rosemary minced

3 bay leaves

Pinch of salt and pepper

2 tablespoons butter

½ cup beer

Melt butter in large heavy pot with a lid.  Add mushrooms, onions, and herbs.  Cover and cook over medium heat for about 10 minutes so the veg can release their water.  Uncover and cook, stirring occasionally until the pot is dry and the veg is lightly caramelized.

Deglaze with beer and let cook until the beer has completely cooked out.  Remove veg and set aside.


½ cup very fine flour, like Wondra

Vegetable oil

Pour the flour into the bag with the pork chunks.  Shake to coat.  Heat ¼ cup or so of oil, then add the coated pork.  Don’t put too many in at one time, they won’t get crusty and caramelize—leave at least an inch of space around each piece.  Cook on one side until golden brown and crusty (3-5 minutes), then flip and cook the other side.

Remove from pot and cook in batches until all of the pork is done.

Add all the pork and the veg to the pot, turn to around 6-ish.


½ cup butter

2/3 cups flour

Melt butter, stir in flour, and cook until peanut butter-colored.  Remove from heat and set aside.


1 ½ cup chicken stock

1 ½ cup beef stock

¾ cup skim or 2% milk

1 tablespoon dark soy or Worcestershire sauce

3-4 tablespoons mustard

1-2 tablespoons apricot jelly, or maple syrup, or honey (something sweet that fits the flavor profiles)

15-20 gratings of fresh nutmeg

¾ cup heavy cream

Salt & pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 225° F.

Add all sauce ingredients except cream and salt & pepper to pot with pork and vegetables.

Bring to a boil.  Stir in enough roux to bring to desired gravy thickness.  Take off heat.

Stir in cream. Season, taste, and reseason until it’s perfect.

Cover, and place in oven.  After 90 minutes take out of oven, uncover, and skim off all the fat that has accumulated on the top.

Place back into oven and cook for another 90 minutes.  Remove and check for doneness.  You want it fork-tender, but not falling apart.

Serve over egg noodles.  Reheat leftovers in microwave. 

Or reheat it like I did for Petey: in a covered pan with raw long-grain white rice with an equal amount of water (for example; 1 ½ cups water & 1 ½ cups rice).  Bring to a simmer, cover and cook for 30-40 minutes or until rice is cooked through.  Serve with a fresh veg or top each serving with a big handful of pea shoots.


Thanks for your time.

Contact debbie at

Fixing Taters

The best way to remedy a dish you’ve oversalted is by putting a potato into the pot; it absorbs the extra salinity.

But what if you’re cooking potatoes?

You’re probably gonna need a different plan.

A week or so ago, I bought a bag of baby potatoes.  From what I could see, they looked like fingerlings.  I would cut them in half length-wise, roast, and serve with super bright and puckery lemon mayo.

Before I cooked them, I took a Denver steak, and some of the spuds to my still self-isolating Kid.  My child later told me that they were too small to roast like I was thinking, so they were stewed instead.

The Matthews family band loves old school Southern stewed potatoes.  But I’ve never made the classic type.  I use a method that evolved from a potato recipe from Ina Garten, the Barefoot Contessa.

The Food Network chef has a recipe for herbed new potatoes.  The procedure is similar, but the end result is crispy and if you’re not hyper-vigilant, it can stick to the bottom, then fall apart when serving.

Our procedure produces a creamy spud that more closely resembles a Southern stewed potato, only there’s no need to peel and cut them up before cooking.


I called The Kid after dinner and asked how dinner was.  Unfortunately, the spuds were over salted.

I couldn’t help myself.

“You know how to fix over-salted food, don’t you?”

In an eminently weary voice that left no doubt of The Kid’s thoughts about having a hilarious mother, my child replied, “Yeah, you throw in a potato.”

I swear, I am a walking punchline…wait…I’m a really funny mom, that’s it.

After pausing so my child could finish busting a gut and appreciating the comic genius that is Mom, I said, “…or, you could have added lemon.”  The Kid and I are lemon fiends.  If it doesn’t take our breath away and bring a tear to our eyes, it needs more.

Lemon juice is very acidic.  Which means it needs lots of salt.  If lemon juice is in a recipe, you have to up the salt to compete with the lemon.  If The Kid had added lemon juice to the spuds, it would have probably balanced the salt.

When I made the potatoes for Petey and me, I decided to try the lemon in them.  I had to go easy because my husband isn’t the fan The Kid and I are.

But he’s a very lucky man.  Because in addition to all the delicious eats I create, he lives with a woman who every utterance is pure comedy gold.

Thanks for your time.

Contact debbie at      

Sorta Stewed Lemony Potatoes

3 pounds red or yellow new potatoes

½ cup water

2 heaping teaspoons chicken base, like Better Than Bouillon

2 bay leaves

½ teaspoon dry thyme

½ teaspoon mustard powder

Salt & pepper

Juice from half a lemon

¼ cup garlic chives, sliced thinly


¼ cup finely chopped herbs of your choice

Wash potatoes and cut in half any very large ones.  In large heavy pot with a lid, stir together the first six ingredients.  Give it a good pinch of salt and pepper.

Cover and cook at medium medium-low until the potatoes are tender, but before the liquid has all cooked out (12-18 minutes).

Take off lid and cook until the pan is dry and there are browned bits on the bottom of the pot.

Remove from heat and add lemon juice.  Stir in until a saucy glaze has formed and the brown bits are off the bottom and in the sauce.

Stir in herbs and serve.  4 servings.

Heidi, Cuckoo Clocks, and Enchiladas

Not quite that old…

The sad, grubby little clipping had been stuck on the fridge forever. I’d torn the recipe from some magazine months, or even a year ago.

But the last time we were in Costco, I decided I was going to put up or shut up. I’d give that recipe a try. So, I bought one of their roast chickens.

I’d like to stop right here, for a moment, and talk about the rotisserie chickens at the supermarket.

I think a few years ago a law must have been passed that every grocery store in the country has to sell a roasted chicken.

Costco has one of the best clucker deals around. For 5 bucks you get something so large, it might possibly have been a pterodactyl.

I got 8 cups of meat from the one I bought. Since I only needed 3 cups, I froze a large zip bag of the rest. I made a big pot of pasta with some of it, and a bunch of chicken salad with the rest. So for $5, I got meat for 8 meals, counting leftovers.

But, back to the recipe.

When I attended, it was “Junior High”.

When I was in the ninth grade, all the kids who had taken Spanish for 3 years went to Mexico for spring break. We visited Mexico City, Jalapa; a university town, and Veracruz; a beach town.

Most of the meals we ate were at the hotels, as part of the package. But one night in Veracruz we went to a restaurant and ordered off a large menu. One of our chaperons ordered fish, and a whole fish (eyeballs and all) was brought to him. I’d never seen anything like it in my life. Freaked me right out.

I finally picked something that the other kids assured me wouldn’t be too spicy for my famously wimpy palate—enchiladas Suizas de pollo (Swiss chicken enchiladas).

They were brought out to me, and my classmates were right on the money. They were zippy, but not crazy-hot. There was an abundance of cheese and sour cream (which is why they are called “Swiss”). I loved them. They have become one of my favorite Mexican meals.

The recipe I cut from the forgotten magazine was a casserole that had a hot red sauce and was a riff on tamales. But I don’t do hot sauce, and once I had changed ingredients, added stuff, and made it my own, the experience was very much like my beloved enchiladas Suizas. The casserole was easy to assemble, and could be done in stages. The traditional enchiladas are more labor intensive and the results are not always consistent. The casserole gave me all the flavor and texture, without the work and drama.

*Recipe note: I used homemade guacatillo sauce, or you can buy some from your local Mexican restaurant. A very good bottled alternative is La Victoria mild green taco sauce. Also, I split the casserole into two 8X8 pans. One pan I finished cooking and we ate that night. The other I got to the point of the second bake, wrapped it up tightly, and froze it.

Chicken enchilada Suiza casserole

1-8 ½ oz. package Jiffy corn muffin mix

1-14 ¾ oz. can creamed corn

1-4 oz. can green chiles, drained

2 eggs lightly beaten

½ cup milk

1 teaspoon cumin

1 teaspoon Goya bitter orange adobo

2 cups shredded cheddar or pepper jack cheese

2-3 cups guacatillo sauce

3 cups shredded cooked chicken (white and dark meat)

Sour Cream

Preheat oven to 400°. Spray 13X9 pan with cooking spray.

In a large bowl mix first 7 ingredients and 1 cup cheese. Pour into pan and bake for 20 minutes.

Remove from oven, and pierce casserole about 12 times with sharp knife. Spread guacatillo over top. Scatter chicken over, and cover with the rest of the cheese. Bake for 20 minutes. Let rest out of oven for 10 minutes, then slice and serve. Makes 8 servings.

I was delighted with the finished dish; we loved it. Poor old Petey overindulged, and got a bit of a tummy ache. But not too much of one, because at lunch the next day I nuked the last slice for him, and he happily devoured it.

Thanks for your time.

Contact debbie at

The Wacky Life

Normally, Gentle Reader, I try to mix up the recipes I give you.

While I could live (for a short time) on a diet consisting solely of birthday cake and potato salad, most humans aren’t quite as highly evolved as myself.  So, if I give you a roast beef one week, I wouldn’t give you roast pork the following week.

The same runs true for dessert.  Usually, I’d never give them to you two weeks in a row, never mind three.

But, I think we can all agree that these times are anything but normal.

So, for the third week in a row, I’ve got dessert for you.  Sometimes you just need either chocolate or massive quantities of alcohol.  And, since they both have lots of calories, I had to make a decision.  And, while every once in a while I enjoy a spiritous beverage or two, I am firmly team chocolate.

Oh my…

This week it’s chocolate cake—my mom’s wacky cake.

Continuing the cooking from the larder of the last two weeks, this cake can probably be made with ingredients on hand.  It was a treat developed during the Great Depression when money was tight and continued through WWII when ingredients were literally rationed.

There are no eggs, no butter, and it’s mixed, baked, and served in the same pan.

Traditionally, the cake doesn’t call for frosting—sometimes a sprinkling of powdered sugar.  But, there isn’t a cake on the planet that can’t be made better by a healthy addition of frosting. 

My mom would have this cake waiting for us when we got home from school, as a surprise.

I guess you could have it waiting for your family when they come in from the other room.  Or you could use it as a bribe/reward.

Do you happen to need the garage cleaned out?  Or the car washed, or weeds pulled?

Just saying…

Take care and stay safe.

Thanks for your time.

Contact debbie at

Wacky Cake

1 ½ cups flour

1 cup sugar

3 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa (I like Hershey’s special dark, but use whatever you have on hand)

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon salt

1 tablespoon vinegar (any type)

¼ cup + 2 tablespoons vegetable oil

1 teaspoon vanilla

1 cup cold water-You can replace some or all of the water with cold coffee, espresso, cola or root beer.

Preheat oven to 350°.  Grease and flour 8 or 9 inch round cake pan.  Put dry ingredients in cake pan.  make a well-like indentation in center.  Pour in liquids, and mix with a  fork just until the batter comes together.  Bake for 30-35 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean, but slightly moist.  Leave in pan.

Let cake cool completely and then make frosting.  Serves 8.

Best Fudge Icing

This frosting is really versatile and can be used for any number of things.  It’s really good on something dense, like brownies or blondies. 

6 tablespoons butter

4 tablespoons cocoa

3 cups powdered sugar

6 tablespoons milk

2 teaspoons vanilla

In saucepan, melt butter.  Stir in cocoa until it’s dissolved.  Mix in powdered sugar.  It will get as stiff as concrete here–that’s okay.

Pour in milk, and whisk until completely smooth and glossy.  Stir in vanilla.

Pour over completely cooled cake, and allow to set before serving.

Before it sets, you can sprinkle the top with something to make it a little special.

Topping Ideas:

Chocolate chips

Toasted nuts


Sprinkles or Jimmies

Toffee chips

Large flakes of finishing salt

Broken pretzels

Potato chip shards

M & M’s

Cereal, like Fruity Pebbles or Cocoa Puffs


Crushed cookies

Light sprinkling of cayenne or smoked paprika

Powdered freeze-dried fruit

Murder: Not Most Foul, But Sweet & A Little Bit Spicy

Today, Gentle Reader, I have for you a tale of mayhem and murder, set in the gaslit streets of 1896.

But instead of ending under a tombstone, this story ends in cookies.  Plus a bonus quick bread recipe.

I am totally digging that many people who are stuck at home because the world is on fire have begun baking.  Folks are baking so much bread that yeast has become scarce.  So, enterprising, adaptable Americans are starting their own sourdough starter from naturally occurring free-floating yeast.

Honestly, I couldn’t be prouder or more pleased.  You go, American self-starters!

They’re also making quick breads.  These are easier and as the name says, quicker.  Last week I shared my favorite banana bread recipe, and if you’ve made it Gentle Reader, I hope you’ve enjoyed it.

This week, I have a quick bread recipe that started its online journey on Reddit.  It’s actually a depression-era recipe that doesn’t call for scarce, expensive ingredients.  It doesn’t even contain eggs.

If like me, you are trying to cook from your pantry, or if there are allergy issues at your house, I’ve given you some substitutions that will still turn out a loaf you can be proud of.

The cookie recipe also came from Reddit.  It was shared by a woman who was researching a murder that took place in her house in 1896.  This led the woman, as she called it, “down the rabbit hole”.  She eventually came upon this recipe that came from Cushman’s Bakery which was next door to her house when the crime occurred.

As for the murder, in Patterson, New Jersey a homeless man spent the night accosting women, continuously escalating his behavior until he bludgeoned Mary Sullivan to death.  An interesting side note: the coroner ordered a photograph made of the woman’s retina under the then-theory of optography; that the last thing seen (in this case her killer) by the dead is permanently engraved upon the eye.

I listed tons of different substitutions for these cookies so that no matter what’s in your own pantry, you’ll be able to make your personal version of “Murder Cookies”.

Thanks for your time.

Contact debbie at

Murder Cookies

(Cushman’s Bakery Scotch Cookies)

1 1/2 cups sugar         

1 cup shortening

1/2 cup molasses

1 egg

3 1/2 cups flour

1 teaspoon salt

2 1/2 teaspoons baking soda

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1 teaspoon mace

1/4 cup milk

Cream sugar. shortening, molasses, and egg.  Sift dry ingredients and beat in, along with the milk.

Drop by tablespoonful onto greased sheets.  Press down lightly with floured glass.

Bake, but do not overbake at 350° for 12-14 minutes.


Sugar: brown sugar

Shortening: Softened butter, olive oil, coconut oil, lard, duck fat, or half the amount of apple sauce.

Molasses: equal amounts of liquid sweetener such as honey, corn syrup, agave, maple syrup, sorghum.

Cinnamon and mace: Mix and match a total of 2 teaspoons except where noted.  Ginger, allspice, clove (use no more than ¼ teaspoon), Chinese five-spice, nutmeg (pinch of freshly grated), cayenne (to taste), back or pink peppercorns (pinch of freshly grated), curry powder, smoked paprika, anise, caraway,  fennel,  sumac, or cardamom.

Milk: any fat level, or any plant-based milk.

1932 Peanut Butter Pandemic Bread


2 cups all-purpose flour

¼ cup sugar

4 teaspoons baking powder

1 teaspoon salt

1 1/3 cups milk

2/3 cup peanut butter

Preheat oven to 325°.

Mix dry ingredients.  Mix in the milk, then the peanut butter.

Scrape into greased quick bread loaf pan and bake for about 1 hour.

*You can use any type of peanut butter, nut butters, sun butter, Nutella, or cookie butter.

Fry me A River

Not that kind of labor…

It is a straight-up labor of love.

It’s also delicious and addictive.  So much so, that when I make it, it goes directly to The Kid’s house because I can literally eat it by the pound.

It’s fried pasta.

Not that kind of Strange…

I know, it sounds strange. 

Years ago, before I was much of a cook, there used to be an Italian restaurant near us where we often ate.  They had some wonderful dishes.  One of our favorites was an appetizer that was a riff on nachos.  Instead of corn chips, they used pieces of fried pasta.

I decided to recreate the pasta portion.  But of course, I had no idea how.  I also wasn’t as shameless as I am now when it comes to asking for recipes.  If it happened now, I would ask to be in the kitchen and watched the procedure.

So, I was on my own to figure it out.

First I tried using raw pasta, thinking the frying would be the only cook it needed.  Yeah, that didn’t work. 

Frying something draws out the liquid and seals it in that delicious crispy, fried crust.  Dried pasta contains no water—that’s the whole point of drying it.  Frying left it greasy on the outside and hard enough to etch glass.

Then I tried cooking it and frying most of it in one batch.  I got a tough, chewy brick.  I then put less in at one time and it still stuck together.  Finally, I only put in three or four in at a time.

I had to adjust the time spent in the oil so it would come out GBD (golden brown and delicious).  If you just wait until the bubbles stop, that means that all the water is out of the product so it is perfectly crispy.

But I was left with something that was incredibly messy, made the house smell like a fast-food joint, and at a few at a time, took hours.

So, I made it for The Kid, but rarely, and half the time gave up before all the pasta was fried.  Which wasted food.

At Christmas, I make The Kid one gift each year.  Last Christmas I decided to fry pasta.  But I was really dreading the slog. 

While making marshmallows, I got to thinking.  There aren’t many stickier substances known to man than marshmallow goo.  But when they are coated in corn starch, all the outer stickiness vanishes.

So I tossed the pasta in corn starch before frying.

It worked.  I still couldn’t fill the pot, but now I could do 10-12 at one time, making the job so much faster.

Of course, it’s still a slow, messy, involved process.  But so worth it.  In fact, without careful rationing, you’ll probably eat them faster than the cooking took.

But soooo worth it.

Thanks for your time.

Contact debbie at

Fried Pasta

16 ounces bowtie pasta

Corn starch

Vegetable oil

Fine sea salt & pepper

Herbs, spices, cheese powder, ranch seasoning (optional)

Cook the pasta in heavily salted water until al dente.  When done, drain and toss with ¼ cup corn starch.

Lay out in a single layer on parchment-lined tray.  

Set up frying station:

Put paper towels on large rimmed baking sheet.  Place salt, pepper, flavorings nearby.  Put pan on medium heat, fill about halfway with oil, and heat to 350 degrees.


To minimize it sticking together, do no more than 10-12 pieces at a time. Gently place pasta into hot oil, one at a time. If they try to stick, gently separate them.

Fry until golden, and bubbling has stopped.  Remove to lined baking sheet, and season. 

Batch Game

So, I think (I hope) that this morning I had my last foray out of the house for a while.

Yesterday The Kid and I went around to a couple of stores to round out our pantry and get a couple things to help us while away the time during our social distancing and self-imposed isolation.

I really wanted to get a couple packs of ground beef for two dishes that we all love and gives us leftovers—a hamburger/rice patty and a pot of American goulash, a noodle dish full of mushrooms and pasta also known as American chop suey and slumgullion (?).

Yesterday we went to Lowes Foods.  As you might expect, the meat aisle was pretty bare.  They had ground bison, wild boar, veal, and lamb.  They also had wagyu beef, at ten bucks a pound; no thanks.  But, there was no 80/20 hamburger meat.

Wagyu cow at photo op.

So this morning I ran to my local Carlie C’s where they butcher their own meat.  I thought my chances might be better to find what I needed.

I was right.

My mom made goulash when I was a kid, and I always loved it with a dollop of sour cream.

As I learned to cook, I refined the recipe with herbs, mushrooms, and lastly, roasted garlic. 

So, I think I’m done going out until we need to restock supplies.  Petey and The Kid don’t think I can stay home.  I really, really want to prove them wrong.  There’s nothing left that we need.

Although a couple pints of ice cream would be great…

Thanks for your time.

Contact debbie at

Roasted Garlic American Goulash

1 lb. 80/20 hamburger

12 ounces mushrooms

1 onion

2 heads garlic

1/2 teaspoon bacon fat or vegetable oil

2-14 ounce can tomatoes

1 1/2 cups beef stock

2 tablespoons tomato paste

1/2 cup sherry

1 tablespoon Worchestershire sauce

2 bay leaves

1 1/2 teaspoons dry thyme + 1/2 teaspoon

1 teaspoon dry oregano

1 tablespoon fresh rosemary finely chopped + 2 sprigs

2 teaspoons kosher salt + pinch

1 teaspoon freshly cracked black pepper + pinch

1 pound cavatappi pasta, uncooked

Roast garlic:

Preheat oven to 350.  Cut heads of garlic on half horizontally.  Lay in piece of foil about 9 inches square. Place on top, 1/2 teaspoon thyme, rosemary sprigs, pinch of salt and pepper.  Wrap, and bake for 45 minutes.  Remove from oven and let cool a bit.  Extract all the garlic meat and set aside.

Put hamburger into large heavy pot with a cover.  When it’s just about cooked through, add onions, mushrooms, salt, pepper, and remmaining herbs.  Cook until the veg have released and then cooked out all their liquid.

Add garlic and stir to combine.  Cook for 3 minutes.  Add tomato paste and mix in.  Cook until the paste has darkened, and started to stick to the bottom of the pot.  Add sherry, stir to pull up all the stuff on the bottom of th pot.  Cook until the sherry cooks in.

Pour in tomatoes and juice.  Add beef stock.  Stir in pasta. 

At this point you can bring to a boil and either take off heat to sit covered for 60 minutes, to eat later or finish now.

If you’ve let it sit, 15 minutes before service, put it on a medium burner, gently stirring frequently, so that all the pasta cooks to opaque.

To finish right away, cook covered on medium for 10 minutes, then uncover and cook for 10-15 minutes more when the pasta is fully cooked, and the sauce has thickened and is coating the pasta.

Serve with a dollop of sour cream or Mexican crema.  Serves 8.

Looting Your Pantry

When my Uncle Bill died, my Aunt Polly decided to move from New Jersey to North Carolina.

After the funeral, we all pitched in to help her get ready for the move. My big brother Homer and I were assigned to go through her pantry and fridge in the basement.

We made a discovery.

When Aunt Polly shopped for groceries, she never actually checked to see if she was out or running low. It seemed as if every two weeks or so, she purchased the same list regardless of what she had on hand.

She had jar, after jar, after jar, after jar of mayonnaise. The front jar was recently purchased and good to use. But as the jars got older and older, they got decidedly more toxic looking. The stuff in the very back looked almost radioactive.

She had enough wonky mayo to kill every picnic-goer on the Eastern seaboard. 

I get it. I get really nervous if I am close to running out of something and don’t have a replacement. And I was less than conscientious about inventorying my supplies. I have gotten better, but at one point I had enough pasta to throw a spaghetti dinner for every church in North Carolina. Honestly, once I realized how much I had, I didn’t need to buy any for about a year and a half. 

I’m just grateful pasta’s non-perishable and I didn’t have a malignant mayonnaise situation on my hands.

But my point is that you probably have way more food on hand than you think. 

I’m sure you’ve been seeing the Bedlam that has been visited upon every food retailer as folks stock up, to hunker down. 

Shelves are getting so bare that Harris Teeter, Publix, and Walmart have announced they’re all closing early every day to clean and restock. It’s like an ice and snow storm is bearing down on us, riding on a hurricane. The shelves are empty and shoppers have that intense, almost frantic look in their eyes.

Before you rush out and buy another bag of desperation provisions, go through your kitchen and pantry, and take stock. I’ll bet you the first slice of my next birthday cake that you have a pretty impressive stockpile already.

Now isn’t that pretty and happy?

Everything is going to be cattywampus for the foreseeable future. If you’ve got kids, they’ll be home. You are probably going to be home a lot more than usual. So, get in the kitchen with your housemate, boo, or kids and make something that is usually too labor-intensive for a Tuesday night, or even the weekend.

Make your great grandmother’s special grape soda pot roast. Trot out crazy Uncle Seymour’s 9-alarm chili recipe.  Work on some sourdough starter and bake up some bread.

To get you started, I’ve included my recipe for Creamy pecan pralines—delicious and dangerous; moderation, Gentle Reader.  

My wish is that we’ll all get through this uncertain, anxious time safe and well.  And also that you’re able to have a good time making some good food.

But I’ve noticed something that’s been bothering me.

It’s a wonky time, everything seems precarious, and it’s easy to lose your composure in the supermarket.  It feels like readying for a weather event, but of course, it’s not. I totally get making sure you’ve got plenty of toilet paper. 

But why does everybody need all that bottled water y’all?

Thanks for your time.

Contact debbie at

Creamy Pecan Pralines


3 cups chopped pecans

2 cups light brown sugar, packed

1 cup granulated sugar

1 ½ cups heavy cream

1/3 cup whole milk

6 tablespoons butter

1 ½ teaspoons salt

1 vanilla bean, scraped


Toast pecans:

Heat oven to 350°. Spread chopped pecans out on large baking sheet. Bake for about 5 minutes, or until they’re lightly browned and aromatic.

In a medium saucepan, combine brown sugar, granulated sugar, cream, milk, butter, empty vanilla pod, and salt. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, to 230°. Lower heat slightly if mixture threatens to boil over. Add toasted pecans and continue cooking, stirring constantly, to 236° F.

Remove from the heat; let stand for about 5 minutes.  Add vanilla beans and stir with wooden spoon until mixture is thickened and slightly creamy, about 1-1 ½ minutes. Using small cookie scoop, spoon pralines onto a sheet of parchment or waxed paper. If mixture becomes grainy, heat and stir over medium heat for a few seconds, or until it can be easily scooped and dropped.

Makes about 4 dozen.

Queens of the Dairy

Once upon a time, there was a cow named Greely.

She was a beautiful Jersey the color of a new teddy bear.  She had eyes the size of fresh peaches, with eyelashes as long as a bright blue crayon.

Greely lived on a small farm.  But she hadn’t always lived there.

She was born and grew up at a small dairy farmstead called the Chapel Hill Creamery.  The farm is surrounded by green pastures where the cows graze.  Greely and twenty-nine other Jerseys lived quiet lives set to the rhythm of nature; where each cow has a name and a special human friend that makes sure all their needs are met.  The milk from those cows is turned into many different kinds of delicious cheese.

For a cow, it’s a very happy world.

Greely was treated well at her new home, but sometimes she missed the other cows.

One day, a trailer arrived at the cow’s new home.  They unloaded a cow and brought her to Greely’s pasture.  The two bovines saw each other and charged over the field toward each other.

The new cow was Amy, Greely’s best friend from the dairy!  The Jersey girls nuzzled one another, ecstatic to be together again. 

 The cows lived happily ever after, and Greely was never lonely again.

(This is a true story.)

Thanks for your time.

Contact debbie at

Turnip Gratin with Chapel Hill Creamery Hickory Grove Cheese

Recipe from Chapel Hill Creamery


2 cloves garlic

2.5 lbs. turnips, about 9 medium

1 tsp. dried dill

½ pound Chapel Hill Creamery Hickory Grove cheese

1 cup cream

1 cup coarse bread crumbs

1 Tbs. melted butter

Salt and pepper


Melt butter in a skillet and add bread crumbs, stirring to coat. Set aside.

Rub shallow 8×12 pyrex pan with cut garlic. Butter the pan.

Slice turnips as thinly as possible by hand or on a mandolin. Trim rind on the Hickory Grove and cut into thin slices.

Make three layers of turnips, adding salt, pepper, and some dill to each layer.

Cover with cheese, pour cream over and sprinkle on the bread crumbs.  Cook at 400 degrees uncovered for 40–45 minutes until turnips are cooked through.

Hickory Grove Cheese Straws


1 stick plus 6 tablespoons butter (14 tablespoons), room temperature

3 cups Chapel Hill Creamery Hickory Grove cheese, shredded

1 ¾ cups all-purpose flour, plus more for rolling

1/8 teaspoon salt

½ teaspoon ground cayenne pepper, more or less to taste

2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce


Put butter and cheese into food processor. Add the flour, salt, cayenne, and Worcestershire. Cover and blend until dough just starts to come together in clumps. Place dough on a floured surface and knead it just until it holds together—Don’t overwork it.  It will develop the gluten and make the final product tough and rubbery.  Divide dough into four equal portions and roll into logs about 8-10 inches long.

Chill logs for at least one hour or freeze up to 2 months and then cut into bite-size slices (about ¼-inch wide). If you don’t want to make all the dough at once, it will last in the fridge for about two weeks or freezer for three months.

Sprinkle the top of each with some flaky sea salt.  For extra special treats, place a lightly toasted pecan half on each, after salting.

Bake in preheated 300° oven for 15 minutes and then spin cooking sheet 180° and bake 15 minutes more.  At this point, without opening oven, turn off heat and let cheese straws sit inside hot oven for 45 minutes.

Remove and let cool.

Makes about 6 to 8 dozen.