Not That Cookie, The Other Cookie!

Happy Accidents:

A kid left a cup of juice out on the porch one frigid night.  The next morning, the juice had frozen solid.

The kid (not my Kid) had just invented popsicles!

Dr. Alexander Fleming mishandled one of his Petri dishes and gets a fungal growth in it.  Before tossing it, he notices the fungus has halted the growth of the staphylococcus bacteria in the dish. 

The name of that fungus?  Penicillin!

In 1947 two Bedouin shepherds in Qumran chased a wayward goat into a cave overlooking the Dead Sea.  Inside was a cache of ancient clay pots filled with blackened parchment.

Those shepherds had just discovered the Dead Sea Scrolls!

I decide to rework the dog biscuits I make Crowley into a pumpkin/peanut butter spice cookies for humans.  I planned to take them to a cookie swap at my local library.

The result?  A horrific disaster!

I racked my brain for something that would be quick, and for which I had all the ingredients.  I always have the components for meringues and had chips leftover from a batch of brownies. 

Chocolate Chip Meringues

4 large egg whites

½ teaspoon cream of tartar

1 cup sugar

½ teaspoon kosher salt

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

½ of 10 oz bag of mini semi-sweet chocolate chips

*The most important thing about meringues is to get them and keep them crispy.  When you take them out of the oven, they won’t be totally set.  Once they’re cooled completely, they should be totally crispy throughout.

If you cook these on a really humid or rainy day, they will likely never completely dry out.

You can also omit or change the chips, flavor with a different extract, or add cocoa or espresso powder while mixing.

For Thanksgiving, flavor with cinnamon, nutmeg, ground ginger, or Chinese 5-spice powder, and paint the pastry bag with gel food coloring stripes of fall colors, then when piped, they’ll be colorful and festive.

For Christmas, try peppermint extract and paint the pastry bag red & green.

Preheat oven to 225, and line 2 cookie sheets with parchment paper.

Place egg whites into the bowl of a stand mixer.  Beat on medium until they lighten in color and just begin to increase in size.  Slowly add cream of tartar.

When they turn white, slowly add the sugar a tablespoon at a time.  Turn off mixer and scrape down the sides of the bowl.

When all the sugar has been added, slowly add salt, then vanilla.  Beat until glossy, stiff peaks form.  Very gently, fold in the chocolate chips.

Use a large pastry tip and a zip-top bag (or, if you don’t have a pastry tip, just cut about 1/2 inch off one corner of bag). Fill bag with half the meringue and pipe out onto parchment paper into circles of about 2 inches wide.

Place oven racks close to center and put one cookie sheet on each rack.  Bake for 30 minutes then rotate sheets to the other rack and spin 180 degrees.  Bake 30 minutes more.  Turn off oven and let meringues sit in oven for one hour.  Place parchment with meringues onto cooling rack for 10-15 minutes or until completely cool and crispy throughout.

Store in airtight container.  Silica gel barrels, like from pill bottles will help keep moisture from making the cookies lose their crispiness.

Makes approxamately 36 cookies.

The happy accident part?  Turns out, my favorite librarian and host of the cookie swap had just been diagnosed with celiac disease.  Even if the pumpkin/peanut butter cookies hadn’t been an abomination, she couldn’t have eaten them—she can’t eat gluten anymore.

Thanks for your time.

Contact debbie at d@bullcity.mom.

Glad Day From Flat Rock

Of course, the ice cream got a little melty, the woman came from Flat Rock.

Flat Rock, North Carolina is situated about four miles south of Hendersonville and 160 miles from Raleigh.

And, Betsy Tankersley drove from Flat Rock to compete in the North Carolina Sweet Potato Commission competition at the 2019 NC State Fair. 

The special contests are sponsored by organizations and companies to promote their products.  Each company and organization sets the rules for themselves.  They usually decide on a theme, like game day treats, after school snacks, or holiday appetizers.  The sweet potato folks chose “dietary restrictions”.

Betsy chose the culinary triple axel of dairy-free, gluten-free, vegan.  This should have been sad and awful.

It was the complete opposite; it was joyful and delicious.  The only sad thing was there wasn’t enough for me to have a gallon of it.  Honestly, in my five years of judging contests, this may have been the best creation I’ve had the pleasure to put in my mouth. 

Tankersly is some kind of wizard.  She mixed sweet potato, peanut butter, maple syrup, and cream of coconut.  This combination blended perfectly to form this unctuous, warming flavor that was an amazing foil for the chocolate sauce which included coconut oil.  It was topped with a whipped cream made with more coconut, in the form of coconut cream.

But here’s the thing.  Fellow judge The Kid hates coconut.  My child, if made line leader of the world would declare coconut anathema, and outlaw it.

But this amazing treat?  My favorite (and only) child would push me in front of a train for another helping of this kitchen sorcery.

Guaranteed.

Buckeye Ice Cream Sundaes (Gluten-Free, Vegan-Friendly)

Servings: 8 Prep Time: 4 hours, 5 minutes

Betsy Tankersley, Flat Rock

Ingredients:

Ice Cream:

• 1 ½ cups cooked, mashed sweet potatoes

• I cup pure maple syrup

• 3 Tbsp. vanilla extract

• 16 oz. creamy peanut butter

• 21 oz. cream of coconut

• ¼ tsp. allspice

• ½ tsp. salt

Hot Fudge Sauce:

• 1/3 cup coconut oil

• ¼ cup sugar

• 1/3 cup plant-based milk substitute

• 1 cup dairy-free chocolate chips

• 1/3 cup cocoa powder

• 1 tsp. vanilla extract

Whipped Cream:

• 14 oz. coconut cream

• 1 tsp. vanilla extract

• 3 Tbsp. powdered sugar

Topping:

• 1 cup gluten-free mini pretzels

For the ice cream:

Blend all ingredients until smooth.  Place in large plastic or metal container and lay plastic wrap on top of mixture (this’ll help keep ice crystals from forming on ice cream).

Place in freezer for 4 hours, stirring approximately every 30 minutes.

**While you’re near the freezer, place medium mixing bowl in freezer for 30 minutes, this’ll be for the whipped cream.

For the Hot Fudge Sauce:

While your ice cream forms, you can make the hot fudge sauce.

In a medium pot, mix together the oil, sugar, cocoa and milk substitute until combined.

Bring mixture to steady boil over medium-high heat, stirring until thickened (if it’s being troublesome, some tapioca or cornstarch will help). Remove from heat and stir in vanilla and chocolate chips until smooth.

For the Whipped Cream:

While ice cream forms, make the whipped cream. Drain off the clear liquid from cream of coconut (keeping the thick, white part). Remove mixing bowl from freezer and add to it cream of coconut, powdered sugar, and vanilla. Whip on medium-high speed until stiff peaks form.

Assembly:

Scoop a hearty serving of the peanut butter ice cream into serving dish. Top with spoonful of hot fudge sauce then whipped cream and then sprinkle with pretzels or another topping you like.

Gentle Reader, I am not joking—make this incredible stuff.

Thanks for your time.

Contact debbie at d@bullcity.mom.

The New Gig

Hey Gentle Reader.

Today my first column for the Chatham News & Record went online. The paper is a weekly independently owned local paper that comes from Siler City. If you’ve ever watched The Andy Griffith Show, the name might ring a bell. This is where the boys took their dates when the night was more special than Mayberry, and the Blue Bird Cafe, but not quite up to Mount Pilot standards.

They decided to title the column, “The Curious Cook”. I guess that’s appropriate, most people think I’m a little curious…

The piece is a short autobiography, so you might learn a little something about the Sphinx that is me.

But even if you already know way more about me than you want, I also give out the recipe and procedure for my Extra Strength Brownies with five kinds of chocolate, so there’s actually something of value in the piece.

Here’s the link, and Happy Brownie!

Thanks for your time.

Contact debbie at d@bullcity.mom.

Dinner With The Kid

The Matthews family band love Shake & Bake pork chops and eat them a couple of times a month.  But I haven’t bought a box of it for many years,

I make my own.

Every time we’re down to crumbs in a bag of chips, or crackers, or anything crunchy, I dump the remains into a zip-top bag that lives in the freezer.  Then when it’s pork chop day, I throw everything into the bowl of a food processor along with herbs, Worcestershire, parmesan, olive oil, salt, and pepper.  If the crumbs are dark, I use them as is.  If they’re pale I also toast them for color.  Then I use it just like the store-bought stuff.

Recently, I had a big bag of tiny little pretzels I’d bought to put on brownies.  They were adorable but so small they absorbed moisture from the brownies and went stale after a day.  I don’t put pretzels on brownies so they can add disappointment. 

The Kid was coming for dinner, and I was making pork chops, so I decided they’d be pretzel-ized.

Pretzel Baked Pork Chops

4 boneless pork loin chops, ½ to ¾ inch-thick

2 cups flour

1 tablespoon mustard powder

2 teaspoons salt

1 teaspoon pepper

2 cups 2% milk

2 tablespoons mustard (your choice of style)

3-4 cups pretzels, crushed, with some larger bits left for texture

3 tablespoons vegetable oil

Preheat oven to 425.  Put oil into 9X9 baking dish.

Make three-part dredge:  Put flour, mustard powder, salt, and pepper into large zip-top bag.

In a shallow dish, mix milk and mustard.

Put crushed pretzels in second shallow dish.

Shake chops in flour, dip in milk, then coat with pretzels, pressing pretzels on to get as many as possible and make them stick.  Put in baking dish.

Bake for 10 minutes then carefully flip over.  Bake until internal temp until they reach 140° (approx 5-7 more minutes). 

Serves 4.

For a side, there was The Kid’s favorite potato salad.  Za’atar is a Mediterranean blend of sesame seeds and dried herbs like cumin and sumac.  If can be found online and at middle Eastern markets.

The Kid’s Za’atar Potato Salad

2-3 pounds of waxy spuds like red skin or Yukon gold

1 large lemon, juiced and zested

1 teaspoon za’atar spice

¾ cup mayonnaise

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 tablespoon capers

1 shallot, diced

Salt & pepper

In a pot of very salty water, boil whole, unpeeled potatoes until fork-tender.  When they are still hot, but cool enough to touch, peel and cut into salad-sized chunks.

Immediately add half the lemon juice and za’atar.  Gently stir until everything’s coated.  Loosely cover and let cool completely.

Make dressing:  Whisk together mayo, olive oil, the rest of the lemon juice, and zest.  Season, taste and reseason if needed.  Cover and refrigerate for 60 minutes.

Assemble: put caper and shallots in bowl with potatoes.  Fold in the dressing, a bit at a time, until everything’s lightly coated.

Serves 6-ish.

Our veg was broccoli.

Skillet Broccoli

1 large head of broccoli, cut into large/medium florets

3 tablespoons butter

¼ cup water

Salt & pepper to taste

Put everything into skillet and cover.  Cook at medium-high (about 6 or 7) until crisp-tender, adding a little more water as needed.

Uncover, turn to medium, and cook until there’s lots of browning and crisping, turning with tongs frequently to prevent burning.  Remove from heat, check for seasoning and serve.

Serves four.

The broccoli technique works for cauliflower as well.  Just be careful that you don’t over steam the vegetables—you need that structural integrity to get a nice crusty caramelization.

Bon Appetit!

Thanks for your time.

Contact debbie at d@bullcity.mom.

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.