Vegetable induced ennui

Petey and I have been married for over 33 years.  On average I cook six meals a week (that’s 5616 meals).  For the first 15 years of marriage though, I probably only cooked four times a week (3120).That’s a grand total of 8736 meals (you would not believe how difficult that simple bit of math was for me—and I was using a calculator).

The upshot of all this is that I have cooked a lot of food, including many, many, many side dishes.  And at about dinner number 1283, I started getting tired of my customary vegetable dance of, “microwave until hot and add melted butter”.I was desperate for a new song for my tired, boring veggies to waltz to.

I started by overhauling my preparation procedure for bags of frozen vegetables; peas, mixed veg, and other similar types.

First, the microwave got a pink slip.

Except for a very few exceptions, I now cook the veggies, frozen or fresh on the stovetop in a non-stick skillet.  It treats the vegetables with more respect, which always adds more flavor.  It also takes roughly the same effort, and can be prepped and ready to go well in advance.

The formula is simple and works with everything.  You can increase or decrease it depending on the number at your table.

Quick cooked Southern vegmixed veg2 ½ cups frozen vegetable

3 tablespoons butter

1 tablespoon chicken base

¼ cup water

Pinch of sugar

Salt & pepper

¼ cup fresh herbs, chopped (optional)

Throw everything into a skillet.  Cover, turn on medium-high and cook until the veggies are hot and the liquid is bubbling.  Uncover and cook until the water is cooked off and formed a sauce.  Take off heat, stir in herbs, and serves.  Serves 4.

This technique also works really well with fresh carrots, with only a few tweaks.  Because they take much longer to cook, you need to start with more water.  Also, you can cut them into any size or shape you like (I usually cut them into slices on the bias), but it’s very important that they all have roughly the amount of same surface area, so they finish at the same time.You can also switch out the sweet component, and the spices.  I have used maple syrup, jam, brown sugar, sorghum, and even reduced root beer.  As for spices, nutmeg, Chinese five spice, and pumpkin pie spice all work.  You can mix and match to your family’s taste and what’s in your pantry.  No need to go buy something special, just work with what you have on hand.

Lately, I’ve been buying large bags of rainbow carrots.  The Durham Coop and Whole Foods normally carry them, at about $1 per pound.  You could also use this procedure with another root vegetable like parsnip or beets.

All in together glazed carrotshoney glazed carrots2 pounds carrots, peeled and cut into similar sized pieces

¾ cup water

¼ cup butter

1-2 tablespoons buckwheat honey

10-15 gratings of fresh nutmeg

1-2 teaspoons vanilla paste

Salt and pepper

Put everything into a skillet.  Cover and cook on medium-high until the carrots are tender (about 10 minutes).  Uncover and cook until the liquid has reduced to a syrupy glaze.  Check for seasoning and serve.

The last recipe is for green beans.  It’s from my brilliant child, The Kid.  It’s truly my new favorite way to eat them.

The Kid’s marvelous green beansgreen beans

Garlic oil:

2 tablespoons olive oil

4-6 garlic cloves

Put oil in a small pot.  Give each garlic clove a smash to bruise it, and drop it into the pot.  Turn on medium-low.  When the oil begins to simmer, turn off and let sit to cool.  Strain out the garlic.

1 pound green beans

Garlic oil

Salt & pepper

Line a large baking sheet with foil.  Toss beans with garlic oil, salt and pepper.  Spread out on baking sheet.  Place pan under broiler for 4 minutes.  Toss and cook for another 4-5 minutes until they’re cooked and blistered (in spots—not all over).  Serves 2-3.

I hope you enjoy these veggie ideas.  Maybe after the next thousand or two meals, I’ll come up with another new take on an old veg.Thanks for your time.

Big Dipper

You know how when you buy a car you then see that kind of car everywhere?It’s funny that you never noticed all those 1975 AMC Gremlins on the streets of the Bull City until you were rocking your very own groovy ride.

It’s been that way this week with dip.

I’d been thinking about doing some snacks for watching the big game.  I wanted to do something really different.

I saw this dish on Chopped on Food Network.  It hails from Greece.

Skordaliaskordalia2 russet potatoes, peeled, cut into ¾ inch cubes

½ cup almonds (I love Marcona almonds, but use what you like)

1 head of roasted garlic, or 6-8 cloves raw garlic

1/3 cup fresh lemon juice

¾ cup olive oil

2 tablespoons cold water, + more as needed

Salt & pepper to taste

Rinse suds under cold water to get rid of some of the starch.  Then cook potatoes in heavily salted water until they are very tender—a little softer than you’d want for mashed.  Drain, rinse again, then spread out onto a baking sheet and cook in a 250 degree oven for about 10 minutes to really dry them.

While the potatoes are cooking, put the garlic, almonds, lemon juice, and 2 tablespoons water into a food processor.  Blitz until it becomes a smooth paste.  Season, taste, and season again; remember lemon needs lots of salt.

When the potatoes are cooked and dried, either put them through a ricer, a food mill, or mash them with a potato masher until they are completely smooth.Put potatoes and garlic/almond paste into a mixer fitted with the whisk attachment if available.  Mix on low until it becomes a smooth emulsion.  If necessary (if it wants to separate), add more cold water a tablespoon at a time until fully cohesive.

Makes about 3 cups.     

I’m not normally somebody who likes to put a carb on a carb (pizza or wraps with potatoes are criminally wrong).  But I really think this would be legendary eaten on shards of fried pasta.  And also, pretty darn unique.  Skordalia is also expectantly good on grilled meat.

Fried pasta chipsfried-pasta16 ounces lasagna—not the no cook kind

Vegetable oil

Fine sea salt & pepper

Cook the pasta in heavily salted water until al dente.  When done, drain and gently mix with a little oil, to keep from sticking.

When cool, cut each noodle into 2-inch wide strips (you should get five from each).  Lay out on parchment-lined tray.  

Set up frying station:

Put paper towels on a large rimmed baking sheet.  Set next to the burner you’ll be using for the frying portion of the program.  Place salt nearby.  Put saucepan on medium heat, fill about halfway with oil, and heat to 350 degrees.


Pasta really wants to stick when frying.  To minimize, do no more than three pieces at a time. Gently place pasta into hot oil, one at a time, slowly and carefully. They’ll drop to bottom. Leave them alone until they pop up.  At this point they will have a little protective skin to help keep them from sticking.  If, after all this, they try to stick, gently separate them.Fry until lightly golden, and most of the bubbling has stopped.  Remove to lined baking sheet, and salt. 

They take a while, and honestly, are pretty messy.  But they are shockingly delicious and addictive.  The Kid would mug a little old lady for fried pasta.

I have one more unexpected dip and its vehicle.

Peel two pounds of regular carrots and cut ½-inch slices diagonally so they resemble chips.carrots-and-dipPut 2 cups of peanut butter into a bowl, and whisk in a big pinch of Chinese five-spice powder and cayenne pepper to taste.  If needed, whisk in a little cold water until you have dip consistency.  Season with salt and pepper, taste, and season again, if necessary.

Refrigerate dip and keep carrots cool until service.

So, here are a couple ideas for game day snacking.  They work for all manner of contests.  It could be gin rummy, judging fashion on the red carpet, or even if your game is one of thrones.

Any type of game…

Thanks for your time.


The late-ish Debbie Matthews

I always used to be on time.  Always.

Then I met Petey.  That boy will be late to his own funeral.

So the fact that I’m talking about corned beef and cabbage, 3 ½ weeks after Saint Patrick’s Day is apt.

But you know what?

Any time is the right time for corned beef, because it is heavenly, meaty ambrosia.  Whether eaten hot, with a plate full of butter-drenched veg, or heaped between some rye, corned beef is mouthwateringly delicious.

Recently I made it for the first time.

This wasn’t by choice.  If I’d had my way, I’d make it all the time.  But Petey absolutely loathes it.  And, until recently, so did The Kid.

My child and I share a love of Reubens.  But traditional corned beef and cabbage was only enjoyed by me, and I couldn’t justify cooking an entire brisket for one.  Joyously, The Kid has lately had a change of heart.

But Buddy-Roe, we can put away Reubens like Reuben-eating rock stars..

Profoundly non-kosher Reubens


4 slices seeded rye

½ pound thinly sliced corned beef

½ cup sauerkraut

4 slices Swiss cheese


Thousand Island dressing

Lay out bread.  Spread mayo to taste on 2 slices, and Thousand Island on the other two.  Lay one piece of cheese on each slice of bread.  Top half the rye with corned beef and sauerkraut. 


Spread very thin layer of mayo on the outside of sandwiches.  Cook in skillet on medium-low until hot and melty.

But to make this delicious dish, you need some corned beef.  Most of the time I pick it up from a deli.  But now I can make corned beef with veggies, and put together a Reuben with homemade leftovers.

Corned beef and cabbage

corned beef

2 pound corned beef brisket with spice packet (or 2 tablespoons pickling spice)

1 large yellow onion

2 tablespoons butter

4 bay leaves

3 cups dark beer, divided

2 heaping tablespoons Dijon mustard

2 tablespoons maple syrup

Salt and pepper


8-10 medium red skinned potatoes, washed and cut into 4 pieces

1 head of cabbage, cored and cut into 8 pieces

1 pound carrots, peeled and cut into large pieces, or left whole if they’re small

6 tablespoons butter melted mixed with 2 tablespoons each chopped fresh parsley and chives

Preheat oven to 250.  Place Dutch oven on stove-top and set to medium.  Melt butter in pot.  Slice onions into half-moons.  Add to pot with bay leaves, spice, salt and pepper.  Cook on medium-low until onions are golden.  Turn heat up to medium-high and stir in mustard.

Pour in ½ cup beer.  Scrape up any bits clinging to pot bottom.  Add maple syrup and cook until almost dry.  Add rest of the beer.  Place in brisket, fat side up.  Add enough water to barely cover meat.  Insert probe thermometer set to 210.  Cover and place in oven.

When brisket gets to 195 degrees, put potatoes into separate pot with salted water to cover.  Add enough corned beef cooking liquid to cover by 1-2 inches.  Cook on medium.  After 10 minutes add carrots and cabbage.  Cook until all veggies are tender.  Drain and pour parsley-chive butter over.

When corned beef hits 210, remove from oven and let rest for 5-10 minutes.  Carve thinly against the grain.

Serves 6.

Normally I’d recommend serving this with salad.  But when it comes to this meal, I have no shame.  I can eat my weight in corned beef.  When this is on the menu, I don’t want to clutter up my belly with anything else.

Thanks for your time.

Orange you glad?

Consider for a moment, the carrot.

The humble carrot.

It is literally, one of the most down-to-earth veggies that we have.  You’d think that something so humble would do well no matter what type of above-ground procedures it endures.

And you would be wrong.

You know those baby carrots that they sell in the plastic sack?  Yeah, they aren’t actually baby anything.  They are regular carrots which are whittled down, and treated with chemicals.  Don’t go there.  Buy fresh and cut them yourself.  They’ll be about half the price as well.

I’m a big fan of IQF (individually quick frozen) produce.  As soon as they’re harvested, the vegetables are taken to a processing center very near the fields.  They are normally frozen within minutes.  So, unless you grow them in your own yard, it’s hard to get much fresher.  With peas and corn, the sugars start turning to starch as soon as they ae picked.  I almost never buy fresh peas, and only purchase corn in the summertime, from a farmer’s market.

Fresh is almost always best.

Not though, for our friend the carrot.  The hard flesh seems to turn spongy when frozen, and the texture of the cooked carrot becomes unpleasant.  I think the sugar and ice crystals really slice the carrots up and they become badly damaged.  It makes for a very unhappy eating experience.

We eat a lot of carrots, but it’s always from fresh.  My favorite cooking method is glazed.  It seems that no matter how many I make, there are never leftovers.

It’s a simple dish, so every component is important.  Each ingredient has a cheaper, faux version, but I urge you not to use them.  You’ll only use a bit of each item, so it’s not an expensive dish.

Chinese five-spice powder is an ingredient in my carrots.  I also use it in my holiday ham, and on sweet potatoes, among other things.  It’s a spice blend used in many Asian dishes.  If you eat much Chinese, you’ll recognize the aroma.

Traditionally, it’s a mixture of star anise, clove, Chinese cinnamon, Sichuan peppercorns, and fennel seed.  Simple, right?  Yeah, not so much.  I use is a brand called Dynasty.  I get it at Li Ming Asian Market (3400 Westgate Dr, Durham).  But, I’d picked up a jar of Spice Islands at Kroger once when I thought I was out.  I’d never even opened it, so one day when my mom was visiting, I told her about the carrots, and gave her the recipe.  To save her a hunt, I decided to give her my unopened bottle.  Then I looked at the ingredients.  First off, there was way more than five; secondly, the only thing I recognized was cinnamon.  And, the aroma was not right.  I tossed it, and gave her a bag with some from my Dynasty bottle.

glazed carrots

Everything you need.

Glazed carrots

2 pounds carrots, peeled and cut into similarly sized pieces

½ cup chicken stock

4 tablespoons butter

¼ cup pure maple syrup

¼ teaspoon Chinese 5-spice

Salt and pepper to taste

Put everything into a heavy skillet.  Cover and cook on medium until the carrots are crisp-tender.  Uncover and continue to cook until a thick, glazy sauce has formed. 

Serves four.

Hey, don’t get me wrong, I love making do, and saving cash.  But sometimes it’s not worth it.  What you save in money, you’ll lose in flavor and enjoyment.

So to save up for those cute boots, buy your meat on sale.  But don’t cheap out on the glazed carrots.

Please pass the discount tuna fish…

Thanks for your time.

Sneaky Pilaf

Here’s my wish for you:

I hope that after more than thirty years together, you and your SO (significant other) are still capable of surprising the heck out of each other.

By now, Petey and I know each other pretty well.

He knows I consider frosting a necessary food group.  That Roger Moore was the best Bond.  And to never bring up how many shoes I own.

I’ve come to accept that when he is holding the remote, we will never watch a program all the way through from start to finish.  And it’s futile to try and get him out of what The Kid calls the Canadian tuxedo; jeans and a jean jacket, with a t-shirt in the summer, or a flannel shirt in the colder months.

But lately, when it comes to food, he has shocked me to the core.

A couple of years ago, I found out that coconut cake is one of his favorite desserts.  Then after making many, many batches of my green pork chili, he confessed that he’s not a fan (at the time of this revelation I had a gallon bagged up in the freezer, which The Kid generously offered to take off my hands).

In a quest to eat healthier, I bought a ten pound bag of brown rice at Costco; with Petey’s full knowledge and cooperation.

But a month or so ago, he sheepishly informed me that he doesn’t really like it.

I told him that we would have to eat it up, but I would alternate brown rice dinners with the white stuff.  I may have told him that, but I hate serving him food that he doesn’t enjoy, so it wasn’t really being used.

He does love pilafs.  When we go out to eat, if there is pilaf on the menu, he orders it, even over things like creamy mashed, or loaded baked potatoes.

The other night I decided to make a pilaf.  One thing I love about them is that they’re a great opportunity to use up any vegetables in the fridge that are past their prime.

I always use stock in my pilaf, so the cooked rice isn’t snow white.  So I would use this stock camouflage to substitute brown rice in my recipe, hoping that the flavor, and chewy characteristics of the wild rice I planned on adding would disguise my deceit.

It worked.  Petey had no idea he was eating brown rice.  And when I told him, he liked it so much, he didn’t even slow down the chowing down.

Brown and wild rice pilaf


3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

2 tablespoons butter

1 onion, chopped

2 cups mushrooms, sliced

1/2 cup dried porcini mushrooms

1 cup celery, chopped

3 large carrots, chopped

1 teaspoon each dried thyme

2 teaspoons minced fresh rosemary

3-4 cloves garlic, minced

1 1/3 cups brown rice

2/3 cup wild rice

1/2 cup white wine

1 teaspoon porcini powder (available at Lowes Foods)

1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce

3 3/4 cups chicken or mushroom stock or some combination of both

Kosher salt

Freshly cracked pepper


Preheat oven to 375. Put 2 cups salted water in a saucepan and bring to boil.  Drop in clean dried mushrooms, and let boil for 3 minutes.  Drain, using cheesecloth or paper towels to catch any dirt and reserve stock for pilaf.  Slice mushrooms into bite-sized pieces.

In a heavy Dutch oven over medium heat, melt the butter with the oil. Sauté fresh and dried mushrooms, carrots, celery, onions and herbs, until lightly browned; about 8-10 minutes. Add both rices and garlic, then stir until the grains are toasted and well coated, about 3 minutes.

Deglaze with wine.  When’s it’s absorbed, stir in the stock, add porcini powder and Worcestershire. Taste liquid for seasoning, and adjust if needed.  Bring to a simmer, stir and cover.

Transfer the pot to oven and bake until all the liquid has been absorbed and the rice is tender, 65-75 minutes.

Remove from the oven. Serves 8 to 10.

     The recent spousal revelations have, at times, sent me reeling.  I’m afraid that one of these days I’ll find out I’m married to an opera lover who hates scrambled eggs, and loves cats.

Thanks for your time.